Wet markets, exotic animal trade need stricter regulations to prevent next pandemic, Duke expert says


DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – From bats, then to something else, then to humans.

A new joint World Health Organization-China study said that’s the likely origin story of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“It went from bats to something to humans. I think it’s going to be very difficult to pin down what that secondary host will be, but there are a lot of likely suspects” said Dr. Stuart Pimm, a world-leading ecologist with the Nicholas School of Environment at Duke University.

Pimm agrees that SARS-CoV-2 likely did start with a bat that infected an exotic animal sold at one of China’s wet markets. It was then passed on to humans. But, we may never know what that secondary animal was.

“You can sort of walk along and point to the animal you want to have slaughtered and served up for lunch. So, I think basically what they’ve said is that’s the simplest explanation is the likely one, and I find that credible. I think it would be very unlikely if it were anything else.”

Some have suggested it was conjured up in a lab in Wuhan. Pimm does not believe that is the case. Independent genomic studies have also concluded the virus originated in nature.

Pimm said there are multiple ways to stop the next coronavirus. One way it to discontinue wet markets.

“This kind of exotic food (is) in many places, not everywhere, in many places, a luxury. People do not need it, by and large, to survive. That’s something we should slow down. We should regulate it very carefully,” Pimm said.

He added that the destruction of tropical rain forests exposes humans to disease.

“We do not need to be intruding in places where there’s a lot of species and where there’s a lot of species that can harm us. With hindsight, we would never have wanted to destroy the forests of West Africa out of which came HIV.” 

HIV/AIDS has killed around 33 million people. COVID-19 has claimed nearly 3 million lives. Pimm also said the international trade of exotic animals needs to slow down and be inspected properly to stop the spread of disease.

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