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Monday, 6 April 2020

Don’t blame the bats: it’s human environmental and social policies that pave the way for devastating pandemics

Don’t blame the bats: It’s human environmental and social policies that pave the way for devastating pandemics. The prevalent narrative around microbes pits them as invaders that attack us, but it’s actually relentless human encroachment into new habitats that turns previously harmless organisms into devastating global pandemics, argues author Sonia Shah in an interview with Vox. In our ever-expanding search for land, we bring ourselves into closer proximity with creatures like bats — in whom microbes like Ebola or the new coronavirus exist without causing disease (because that’s where they’ve evolved). With our amazing global transport system, pathogens that emerge in the most remote locations can easily be transmitted to urban hubs. And with human environmental practices reducing biodiversity, we’re eliminating a natural mechanism of slowing the transmission of diseases that can make the jump from animal to human, or vice versa.

We need to shift our approach, or else covid-19 is just the start: Like it or not, human health is connected to that of animals — domestic and wild — and ecosystems in general, argues Shah. There needs to be a paradigm shift away from what she calls microbial xenophobia, or the idea of the germ invading from the outside. And with the likelihood being that the virus that causes covid-19 came from a wild-animal market in China, there should be a re-examining of our own meat production as well, she says. Crowded factory farms are the perfect breeding ground for highly drug-resistant forms of bacterial pathogens and virulent avian influenza — both of which have been scaring scientists long before covid-19 reared its ugly head.

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