About 15 back, researchers have found a cave in southern China that was infected with pathogens similar to the coronavirus that has spread throughout the world today and the ones that triggered SARS and MERS epidemics a few years ago.
The cave, whose precise location has not been disclosed, is populated by wild bats that have been claimed to have a ‘rich gene pool of SARS-related coronaviruses,’ according to Peter Daszak, the president of EcoHealth Alliance, a United States nonprofit organization that keep track of wildlife conditions that could threaten humanity.
Daszak claimed that one of the 500 pathogen strains found in 2004 is 96 percent, like the new coronavirus that has contaminated 28,000 people and claimed over 560 lives since it appeared in December. “What we’re saying is that this cluster of viruses is a high risk,” Daszak said.
Bats May Carry Numerous Strains of Dangerous Viruses
The cave was found back in 2003 as part of the team’s attempts to manage viruses similar to the SARS after the outbreak began, Daszak said. Back then, people believed that civets were the cause of the epidemic, but the team questioned that idea.
After the SARS outbreak, the research team discovered numerous bats in the wildlife market but observed the fact that people were hunting them in the wild and selling them to different restaurants. The team got feces samples from bats and analyzed them in the lab, testing them on mice to see whether they would trigger a SARS-like disease, and they indeed did.
However, lack of funding hindered researchers from analyzing the virus. Instead, they have concentrated their efforts on the strains that most looked like SARS and alerted the authorities. The team of researchers published its discoveries in a few accredited academic journals, and Daszak has disputed that the viruses should be added to the WHO’s top germs of high risk to humanity.
“WHO took it seriously. The Chinese government took it seriously,” Daszak said.
China has since tried to ban the trade and has even prohibited the consumption of wildlife from government meals. Even so, it is rather challenging to patch all the ways, such as the wildlife trade, that those pathogens appear and manifest into human populations.
Funding is Needed
In 2019, PREDICT, an American federal project to detect wildlife pathogens that could infect humans, was closed down by the government because of the increase in ‘risk-averse bureaucrats,’ said Dennis Carroll, the former director of the United States Agency of International Development (USAID). Throughout the last ten years, the program had identified over 1,000 new viruses, such as a new strain of Ebola.
GVP declared that there are approximately 1.5 million pathogens imbedded in wildlife, some of which could be dangerous for humans. Even though it is ‘hard to say what will prevent the outbreak,’ as soon as the authorities identify where and when people are contacting a potentially dangerous pathogen, as well as the type of population activity that led to contact, ‘you can think about how to prevent that or how to reduce contact,’ a researcher said.
Daszak also claimed that there are economic advantages that could hinder future outbreaks. “We did an analysis on the return of investment of reducing the number of outbreaks,” he said. “For every dollar you spend on that, well, you get a $9 return on investment. It really does make economic sense as well as good public health.” We need a proper concerted effort,” he said, “and there might be more of a willingness to “think more strategically” after this outbreak. But the problem is between our breaks, in a year from now, the momentum may have gone — as it often does.”