China has banned live animal sales in Wuhan after a food market selling wolves, civet cats, otters and other wild animals was linked to an outbreak of coronavirus that has so far claimed the lives of at least 17 people and sickened 570.
These types of markets selling wild animals for food are popular around China and can be breeding grounds for viruses, Business Insider reported. Such markets exist in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, and Shandong Province.
China’s preference for fresh and exotic meat makes people “susceptible to the risk of new virus outbreaks through close animal and human contact,” said Wang Yuedan, a professor of immunology at Peking University’s School of Basic Medical Sciences, in a Bloomberg interview. “The same is true for Ebola, which came about as a result of eating animals from the forest in Africa,” the professor added.
Species such as civets have been linked to previous pandemics, according to vendor information and a Chinese media report.
The Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan was closed on Jan. 1 after it was identified as the starting point for the outbreak of Novel Coronavirus 2019-nCov, also known as the Wuhan virus.
Several early victims of the virus were employees of the market, AFP reported.
A variety of live animals and meat was advertised at the Huanan Seafood Market including snakes, dogs, peacocks, otters, camels, and koalas, according to a list published by the South China Morning Post. In addition to poultry, pork and cattle, shoppers could also find ostrich, Chinese giant salamander, Asian badger, camel, crocodile, scorpion, turtle, masked palm civet, kangaroo, porcupine, swan, wolf cubs, rabbit and fox.
The Huanan Seafood Market is considered to be a “wet market” — a place that traditionally sells dead and live animals alongside other produce and food.
Wuhan, population 11 million-plus, is one of China’s top 10 economies and a major hub in the country’s high-speed passenger train network. It’s a few hours by train to most of China’s major cities, increasing concerns that the disease could spread fast during heavy travel over the Lunar New Year holidays (Jan. 24-25).
Seventy percent of all new infectious diseases come from wildlife, according to Christian Walzer, executive director of the health program at the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society. The increase of habitat encroachment comes with growing human health risks, Walzer said.
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Past deadly epidemics have been blamed on wild animals. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed more than 700 people in 2002 and 2003, was linked to Chinese consumption of civet meat. If lax supervision of wildlife trafficking is blamed in the latest outbreak, it could be embarrassing for China, Channel News Asia reported.
The H7N9 and H5N9 bird flu, which killed 1,000 people globally, are thought to have been transmitted to humans through direct contact with infected poultry at a live bird market in China, according to World Health Organization.
A price list circulating on social media for Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Market listed 112 items for sale and promoted the market as providing “wild game animal husbandry for the masses”, “Freshly slaughtered, frozen and delivered to your door … “.
At least one person who traveled to Wuhan has been hospitalized with the virus in the U.S.
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