The Spanish Flu of 1918, the deadliest pandemic in history, a composition of H1N1 influenza A virus strains that affected nearly a third of the world. Though many believed the origins of this virus came from rats in war trenches, birds were responsible for human transmission and the spread. Though the Spanish Flu may seem like just a past event, these zoonotic viruses still pose a threat, as influenza strains continue to be found to this day, posing a risk to non-human and human animals alike
Unsurprisingly, another deadly virus, the Avian Flu, is also of the same origin as the Spanish Flu with strains of influenza type A that came from birds. Global health officials continue to worry about the Avian flu, and the CDC even ranked the type A H7N9 strain as the highest possible threat for viruses at risk of causing a worldwide pandemic. As the highly pathogenic avian influenza strengthens, a deadly virus stronger than the ones we have ever faced could be on the horizons.
CDC’s Influenza Director David Jernigan said, “If you want to do public health, you have to do things that are crisis driven and things that aren’t, so that when you have a crisis it’s not a problem.” The continuation of growth with these influenza in factory farms makes the need to ban factory-farmed meats even higher, we need to prepare for the worst as the worst is yet to come.
Just recently, another virus strain with “pandemic potential” was found in pigs raised for food. Pigs have many similar characteristics to humans, making zoonotic transmission at an even higher risk. The Swine Flu pandemic of 2009, killing 200,000 people, had virus origins from a North Carolina factory farm in 1998. The virus continues to circulate in pig populations making it one of the most common causes of respiratory disease on pig farms in North America. Without making major changes in human activity, the future of all life is on the line.
The history of Coronavirus is very diverse as the origins of this zoonotic virus lie in many different wild animals. The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic of 2002 spread the virus composed of SARS-CoV or SARS-CoV-1 strains, which originated in bats and civets. MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, was said to originate in MERS-CoV strains found in Saudi Arabian bats and camels that were responsible for the spread killing 850 people. COVID-19 consists SARS-CoV-2 strains that were said to originate in pangolins and continue to affect 11+ million people in the US alone. As we all live through this current COVID-19 pandemic, this is not the end of coronavirus. Mink farms have been found to contract and carry COVID-19 causing thousands of minks to die and workers to be infected.
It’s no inference to say animals will cause another pandemic in the future, it is for certain. We need to know how exactly we can prepare and change our actions to protect the future. When looking at the history of zoonotic diseases, many are commonly found in wild animals and wet markets.
By banning wet markets and protecting wildlife from dangerous trade and consumption, the pandemic risk can be lowered. Preparation for the next strains also needs to be noticed. The Russian Flu, Spanish Flu, Asian Flu, Hong Kong Flu, Swine Flu, and Bird Flu are all pandemics that have influenza strain origins. These strains are rarely found in wet markets alone, but in all places where animals are used. Meat and fur farms across the world have been found to carry these diseases, yet they are not taking as much responsibility. Maybe the problem is not just in one wet market or one farm, but places where all animals are exploited. Due to the past data showing the threat influenza viruses have and how commonly they spread, we must prepare for another influenza pandemic soon. Zoonotic diseases are a silent threat; without acknowledging and making major changes in human activity, the planet is on the line.