A year later, society is still searching for the cause of COVID-19. Many theories have circulated in the media regarding the origin of the disease and bats have been placed in the hot seat due to previous correlations with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
COVID-19 is a form of SARS, which is why bats were the first ‘culprit’. However, it turns out that tracking the origin of the disease is more complex than we thought. We still have few leads, but ongoing research has unveiled new findings relating to wildlife and COVID-19.
Tracing the origin
Re-creating an initial transmission occurrence can take years. Scientists must conduct many experiments across varying species to evaluate the disease’s source.
After the first SARS outbreak, scientists were able to track individuals that tested positive to the disease and trace the source back to a common exposure. All sick individuals interacted with specific disease-carrying wildlife. Researchers followed the human consumption of civets back to an interaction with bat faeces.
In the current pandemic, bats are a suspect, but we have little evidence against them. Scientists are working to accumulate more information about the biology and ecology of bats to understand COVID-19 better. Once scientists conduct further research, we will have a better idea of how humans contracted the illness.
Animal and human transmission
Although science may fall behind when it comes to the animal and human transmission origin, it is evident that animals can transmit diseases. Rabies, toxoplasmosis, E. coli, salmonella, typhus and more spread to humans by way of pets and wild mammal species.
Without understanding how pets and other mammals transmit common diseases to humans, we would remain many steps behind in our knowledge of such diseases.
Fortunately, this awareness allows us to look to animals for solutions to symptoms presented in people.
Impact of bats
What we do know about bats and SARS leaves us with an advantage. We can look to these small mammals to find possible cures and protection against the virus.
Bats are the richest source of varying strains of coronavirus. They are also immune to the disease they carry, meaning they suffer no symptoms or fatality as humans do. Scientists research the cellular regulation in bats that causes immunity and pathogen clearance.
The science is still new, but researchers predict that further investigation will allow for advanced findings. These findings have the potential to protect society against COVID-19 and other life-threatening diseases.
Other animal studies
Although the current research hasn’t yet determined the original animal and human transmission occurrence, science shows us that we are not the only mammals affected.
In the Netherlands, researchers studied a mink farm with a COVID-19 outbreak. They found that mink can pass the virus to humans and vice versa.
These scientific findings show society that the effects of this pandemic spread beyond humanity. We must continue to quarantine from family members and pets when symptoms arise.
When we identify humanity as the apex of the global ecosystem, we increase the risk of harming other species. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that humanity is temporary, and we lack control of our ecosystem. There are more considerable forces on the planet than us, which dominate all existence.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also illustrated the environmental impacts of the ‘Anthropocene’ epoch. When society was house-bound, greenhouse gas emissions slowed and the global ecosystem entered recovery. We were able to catch a glimpse of what the environment could look like without environmental degradation.
When science catches up and researchers discover a prevention method for the virus, it is essential to remember environmental conservation. We can use our quarantine time to reflect on how to reduce our negative impacts on the planet.
About the Author: Jane Marsh is an environmental writer and the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers sustainability and eco-friendly living.