WHAT IS THE LINK BETWEEN COVID-19 AND ANIMALS?

The illness seems to have leapt from wildlife to humans in a seafood and meat market in Wuhan, China, where live wild animals were slaughtered and sold as food. The SARS epidemic, also caused by a coronavirus, began in China with the consumption of a catlike animal called the palm civet. The MERS epidemic began with a coronavirus transmitted to humans from camels in the Middle East. But can humans transmit the virus to pets? Both the World Organization for Animal Health and the CDC say there’s no evidence house pets like cats and dogs can spread the virus. In fact, there are only two known cases in which dogs may likely have contracted the virus from their owners and the first, died just days after completing a 3-week quarantine. In the spread of yet another coronavirus, conservationists like those at the Wildlife Conservation Society see an urgent public health lesson- If you want to prevent epidemics that begin in animals, ban wet markets, like the one in Wuhan as well as the global trade in wildlife.

Aired on March 27, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY MIGHT NOT SEEM LIKE A GROUP INTEGRAL TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC.

HOWEVER, THEY ARE.

AS EARLY AS JANUARY OF THIS YEAR, THE GROUP WAS URGENTLY PRESSING ASIAN GOVERNMENTS TO BAN WET MARKETS, AND THE TRADE OF WILDLIFE.

SO WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

DR. CHRISTIAN WALTER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL HEALTH WITH THE WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY, IS HERE TO EXPLAIN THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE INTERNATIONAL TRADE OF WILDLIFE AND THE CORONAVIRUS, AND THE POSSIBLE IMPACT IT COULD BE HAVING ON OUR DOMESTICATED PETS.

WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM, DOCTOR.

GOOD AFTERNOON.

SO FIRST, I JUST WANT TO START WITH FOR SO MANY OF US WHO ARE PROBABLY SCRATCHING OUR HEAD AT THE PHRASE 'WET MARKET.'

WHAT EXACTLY IS IT THAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT?

SO THE WET MARKET IN SOUTHEAST ASIA AND CHINA IS REALLY A HUGE MARKET WHERE ALL KINDS OF PRODUCTS ARE SOLD.

AND IT'S REALLY AN IMPORTANT, YOU KNOW, RESOURCE FOR LOCAL POPULATIONS AND URBAN POPULATIONS DO NEED THESE MARKETS.

BUT WHAT MAKES THEM SO SPECIFIC TO OUR PROBLEM AT THE MOMENT IS THAT ON THESE SO-CALLED WET MARKETS, A LOT OF WILDLIFE IS ALSO BEING TRADED, MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF WILDLIFE.

IT'S HARD TO IMAGINE THE DIVERSITY OF SPECIES THAT IS TRADED THERE.

YOU'LL FIND PORCUPINES AND CATS, A LOT OF DIFFERENT BIRDS, YOU'LL FIND ALL KINDS OF WILDLIFE THERE.

A LOT OF RATS, DIFFERENT SPECIES OF RATS ARE BEING USED.

ALL OF THESE ARE STASHED ON TOP OF EACH OTHER, NEXT TO DOMESTIC SPECIES NEXT TO PIGS, POULTRY.

SO IT'S REALLY A MASSIVE AMOUNT OF ANIMALS ALL TOGETHER IN A SMALL SPACE.

AND SO WHAT'S HAVING ALL THESE ANIMALS TOGETHER IN A SMALL SPACE, HOW DOES -- WHAT MAKES THAT, I GUESS, A BREEDING GROUND FOR VIRUS OF SOME SORT?

SO WHAT IS REALLY SPECIAL ON THESE MARKETS AS WELL IS THAT THE ANIMALS ARE STILL ALIVE.

IT'S NOT LIKE YOU GO TO A PUMPER AND JUST BUY A PIECE OF MEAT OR SOMETHING.

THIS IS -- THE ANIMALS ARE ALIVE.

SO THEY'VE BEEN CAPTURED SOMEWHERE IN THE WORLD, TRANSPORTED IN SOME CASES ACROSS THE ENTIRE GLOBE, TO END UP ON THE MARKET SOMEWHERE IN ASIA.

AND THESE ANIMALS ARE OBVIOUSLY MASSIVELY STRESSED AND EXCRETING THEIR FECAL MATTER, SALIVA AND SO ON.

THEY ALSO EXCRETE THEIR VIRUSES, WHICH CAN GET PASSED ON TO OTHER ANIMALS.

SO IT'S A PERFECT BREEDING GROUND FOR NEW VIRUSES.

SO ONE OF THE OTHER THINGS IS THAT FOR SO MANY AMERICANS, PARTICULARLY PEOPLE WHO MIGHT NOT LIVE IN AN URBAN ENVIRONMENT LIKE NEW YORK CITY, BUT PERHAPS IN SOME OF THE MORE RURAL AREAS, EATING WILDLIFE IS KIND OF COMMON.

THERE'S A LOT OF DEER HUNTERS, PEOPLE WHO SHOOT AND EAT BEARS.

IF YOU GO SOUTH OF HERE, THERE'S PEOPLE WHO EAT WILD TURKEY, ALLIGATORS, ET CETERA.

AGAIN, HOW IS THAT DIFFERENT FROM EATING MEAT FROM THESE WET MARKETS?

SO ONE OF THE HUGE DIFFERENCES IS, OF COURSE, THE DIVERSITY OF SPECIES.

IT'S VERY COMMON IN MANY PARTS OF THE WORLD, I COME FROM EUROPE, WE EAT A LOTDEER, IT'S QUITE NORMAL.

BUT WE HAVE EVOLVED WITH EATING DEER AND BEARS OVER MANY HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF YEARS.

AND WE OBVIOUSLY HAVE ADAPTED TO THE PATHOGENS THAT THEY CAN TRANSMIT.

ON THESE WET MARKETS, THE ANIMALS ARE COMING FROM ALL OVER THE PLACE, SO THEY WILL BE BRINGING NOVEL PATHOGENS TO POPULATIONS THAT ARE NAIVE, CREATING NEW INTERPHASES THAT DO NOT HAPPEN IN A NORMAL, RURAL AREA.

NOW, IS COVID-19 THE ONLY VIRUS TO HAVE EMERGED FROM -- BECAUSE I ALSO WANT TO BE SPECIFIC THAT ACCORDING TO YOUR ORGANIZATION'S RESEARCH, THAT A LOT OF THIS CAN BE TRACED BACK TO THE COVID-19 VIRUS CAN BE TRACED BACK TO A SPECIFIC WET MARKET IN WUHAN, CHINA.

WE HAVE TO BE A LITTLE CAREFUL.

ONE THING THAT IS IMPORTANT IS THIS VIRUS CAN BE TRACED BACK, THE ANCESTRAL HOST IS IN A BAT SOMEWHERE IN CHINA MOST LIKELY OR SOMEWHERE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA.

IT'S ONE OF THE HORSE SHOE BAT SPECIES.

HOW IT GOT FROM THE BAT INTO HUMANS IS NOT QUITE CLEAR.

HOWEVER, THE FIRST EPICENTER OF THE OUTBREAK WAS THIS MARKET, AND SPECIFICALLY THE WILDLIFE SECTION OF THAT MARKET WHERE THE SPILLOVER OCCURRED.

HOWEVER, IT'S GOING TO BE VERY DIFFICULT TO PROVE CONCLUSIVELY, BECAUSE THERE ARE NO SAMPLES LEFT THAT WERE AT THE MARKET AT THAT TIME.

BUT THAT IS THE MOST LIKELY EXPLANATION.

WE HAVE SEEN THIS VERY SIMILAR VIRUS IN 2002-2003 WITH THE SARS VIRUS, WHICH ALSO CAME FROM BATS ORIGINALLY.

IT WAS THEN PASSAGED IN THE SO-CALLED CIVIC CATS AT THE MARKET AND THEN INTO THE HUMANS, WHERE IT TRANSMITTED FROM HUMAN TO HUMAN.

SO WE'VE SEEN BAT VIRUSES GET PASSAGED IN AN ANIMAL WHERE THEY CHANGE THEIR STRUCTURE AND ABILITY TO INFECT HUMANS.

AND THEN THEY ENTER HUMAN CELLS.

SO IT'S AN ASUCH THEN WE CAN MAKE, PROBABLY SOMETHING WAS GOING ON AT THAT MARKET, THAT THE SPILLOVER OCCURRED.

ALTERNATIVELY, ONE HAS TO BE FAIR, THEY COULD HAVE SPILLED OVER FROM A BAT TO A POPULATION OF HUMANS SOMEWHERE, AND PASSAGED IN THOSE HUMANS BEFORE IT BECAME WHAT WE NOW CALL SARS TWO.

OKAY.

SO ONE OF THE THINGS THAT I DO WANT TO BE CAREFUL ABOUT IS WHILE WE ARE TALKING ABOUT THESE WET MARKETS IN CHINA, IN SOUTHEAST ASIA, THAT THIS IS SOMETHING VERY SPECIFIC.

WE'RE NOT SORT OF BLAMING ALL ASIAN PEOPLE.

NO, NO.

THIS IS NOT ABOUT ALL BLAME AT ALL.

THE WORLD HAS CHANGED MASSIVELY.

THE MAIN THING THAT'S CHANGED IN THE WORLD IS THE INTERCONNECTIVENESS.

SO THE HAZARD OF CONSUMING WILDLIFE IN THESE EXOTIC SPECIES OF WILDLIFE, AND ALSO THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS THAT COME WITH IT, WHICH IS THE ILLEGAL TRADE IN WILDLIFE, WHICH IS MASSIVE, AS WELL.

IT HAS BEEN WELL KNOWN, BUT WHAT'S REALLY CHANGED, AND IT'S REALLY A MARKED CHANGE SINCE 2003, IS HOW QUICKLY PEOPLE ARE MOVING ALL OVER THE GLOBE.

SO A VIRUS SPILLOVER, WHICH IN THE PAST SAY 40 YEARS AGO, WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IN A LOCAL COMMUNITY, MAYBE A FEW DEATHS, WOULD NOT HAVE BECOME A GLOBAL PANDEMIC.

BUT NOW, A SMALL EVENT LIKE THAT, A SPILLOVER OF A SINGLE CORONAVIRUS INTO THE HUMAN POPULATION CAN SPREAD OVER THE GLOBE WITHIN A MATTER OF MONTHS.

IT'S UNBELIEVABLE THAT MID JANUARY IS WHEN MOST OF THE WORLD CAUGHT ON WHAT WAS GOING ON.

AND NOW WE'RE GETTING TO THE END OF MARCH AND THE ENTIRE WORLD IS BASICALLY FACING THIS CRISIS.

SO WE NEED TO RE-EVALUATE OUR POSITIONS, AND THAT'S WHY THE WILD WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY HAS BEEN ADAMANT THAT WE BAN THIS WILDLIFE TRADE IN THE MARKET, WHICH IS JUST A MASSIVE TRADE.

SO WE NEED TO WORK ON THAT.

WELL, I DO WANT TO TURN TO SOMETHING ELSE THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE IN THE U.S., IN ADDITION THAT THEIR OWN HEALTH IS THEY ARE CONCERNED ABOUT IS THEIR PETS.

NOW, FOR SEVERAL PEOPLE, FRIENDS OF MINE AND COLLEAGUES WHO HAVE HAD PUPPIES, WHO HAVE SAID WAIT A SECOND, CORONAVIRUS, I'M CERTAIN MY PUPPY HAD SOMETHING LIKE THAT.

SO CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE STRAIN OF THE VIRUS THAT YOUR DOG MIGHT GET AND WHAT PEOPLE ARE DEALING WITH NOW.

SO THAT'S AN IMPORTANT POINT.

THERE ARE A LOT OF CORONAVIRUSES OUT THERE IN THE WORLD.

THE VERY COMMON COLD IN HUMANS IS ALSO A CORONAVIRUS, WHICH DOESN'T CAUSE TOO MUCH CONCERN FOR MOST PEOPLE.

IN CATS AND DOGS, CORONAVIRUSES ARE ALSO VERY COMMON.

WE SEE THEM IN GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS WHERE YOU GET DIARRHEA AND THAT SORT OF THINGS.

THERE'S ALSO CALLED THE F.I.P.

DISEASE IN CATS.

BUT THESE ARE DIFFERENT VIRUSES AND CANNOT BE CONFUSED IN ANY WAY WITH THIS COVID-19.

THERE HAVE BEEN, AND I'M SURE YOUR LISTENERS ARE -- THE VIEWERS HAVE SEEN THIS.

THERE HAVE BEEN SOME ANECDOTAL REPORTS OH OF TWO DOGS BEING COVID-19 POSITIVE IN HONG KONG.

AND IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT TO SAY AT THE MOMENT THAT THERE IS NO EVIDENCE, NO FEAR TO BE HAD FOR ONE'S PETS.

THEY ARE NOT GOING TO FALL SICK, AND THEY CANNOT TRANSMIT THE DISEASE BY THE BEST KNOWLEDGE WE HAVE NOW.

THE ANIMALS THAT WERE POSITIVE, WERE IN TIGHT QUARTERS WITH THEIR POSITIVE OWNERS.

AND THE TESTS THAT ARE BEING USED ARE EXTREMELY SENSITIVE.

SO ANY SURFACE AREA WOULD PICK UP THE VIRUS.

AT THE MOMENT, THEY BASICALLY -- THERE'S NO WORRY AT ALL ABOUT YOUR DOGS IF YOU ARE COVID-19 POSITIVE.

FIND SOMEONE ELSE TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR DOG IN YOUR HOME IF YOU ARE POSITIVE AND TRY NOT TO -- BASIC HYGIENE, THAT SHOULD ALWAYS BE MAINTAINED WITH YOUR PETS.

YOU SHOULDN'T BE KISSING YOUR DOG ALL THE TIME, IT JUST DOESN'T MAKE SENSE.

THAT MIGHT BE A BIG ASK FOR SOME PET OWNERS.

I KNOW, I GET IT, IT'S A BIG ASK.

BUT THERE ARE A FEW REASONS NOT TO DO THAT TOO OFTEN.

YOU KNOW, JUST BE SENSIBLE AND IF YOU'RE COVID-19 RESPONSIBLE, YOU SHOULD BE RESTRAINED FROM DOING THAT WITHIN THE TWO, THREE WEEKS.

MY LAST QUESTION, I WANTED TO TALK ABOUT THAT, WE'VE BEEN HEARING SUCH AN OVERWHELMING NEED OF SHELTER ANIMALS, THAT THEY ARE -- A LOT MORE PEOPLE SEEM TO BE SURRENDERING THEM FOR REASONS WE DON'T FULLY UNDERSTAND.

DEPENDING ON WHERE CERTAIN SHELTERS ARE, THEY MIGHT BE IN CITIES OR COMMUNITIES WHERE THEY HAVE HAD A SIGNIFICANT DECREASE IN THE WORKFORCE, SO THEY'RE UNDERSTAFFED.

I'M JUST WONDERING FROM A VETERINARIAN'S PERSPECTIVE, WHAT IS SOMETHING -- AGAIN, WHEN YOU HAVE A LOT OF DOMESTICATED ANIMALS CROWDED INTO AN AREA, WHAT IS THE BEST THING TO DO FOR THEM?

YOU KNOW, IF YOU OWN A DOG AND A CAT, YOU HAVE TAKEN RESPONSIBILITY FOR THAT CAT.

AND THERE IS -- I CAN ONLY REITERATE, THERE'S NO DANGER IN THE VIEW OF THIS OUTBREAK FOR YOUR DOG OR FROM YOUR DOG OR CAT.

SO THERE'S NO REASON TO GIVE UP THAT ANIMAL.

YOU NEED TO MAYBE GET ORGANIZED, BECAUSE DAILY LIFE HAS CHANGED.

YOU MAY HAVE TO ORGANIZE WITH FAMILY SOMEHOW TO GET YOUR DOG WALKING.

BUT YOU CAN GO OUTSIDE, WALK YOUR DOG.

THERE'S NO WORRIES.

SO KEEP YOUR DOG AT THE MOMENT, PLEASE DON'T GIVE IT UP.

THAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT.

OF COURSE, OF COURSE.

I WANT TO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR NOT ONLY GIVING US PERSPECTIVE ON WHAT TO DO OR WHAT NOT TO WORRY ABOUT WITH OUR DOMESTIC PETS.

BUT I THINK A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF HOW IT IS THAT WE GOT HERE AND THAT -- AS WE ARE IN THIS ALL TOGETHER, AND PART OF THAT MIGHT BE REDUCING OR ELIMINATING THE INTERNATIONAL WILDLIFE TRADE.

SO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING ME.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

THANK YOU.

ABSOLUTELY.

Funders

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