As an Asian American who happens to have a cough during the coronavirus outbreak, simple daily pleasures in what is now a widespread pandemic don’t feel safe. Though a victim's race or nationality is unbeknownst to a virus, COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan, China, has been dubbed the “Asian disease” even though it has quickly moved across countries and borders.
It’s important to know where and how the virus originated. It’s not deliberate. It’s not malice.
Knowing its origins makes this event less probable to arise in the future.
Coronavirus is a title given to a large family of viruses common not only in many different species of animals, including cattle, cats, and bats; but also common in humans as well. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can jump to people, let alone infect them. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention USA (CDC) notes the known viruses to cause infections and spread across humans are MERS-CoV SARS-CoV, and currently SARS-CoV-2 (otherwise known as COVID-19). The SARS-CoV-2 virus is a betacoronavirus, like the other two. All three of these viruses have their origins in bats. The viral genomes from U.S. patients are similar to China’s patients, suggesting that there’s a probable single, recent emergence of this virus from an animal reservoir that caused the spread.
Some myths circulating the mainstream media is include accusing China's "barbaric" appetite for snakes, bats, and mice of potentially initializing the virus. Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, the epicenter of the virus's outbreak is known to have large seafood and livestock markets containing exotic animals other than typical farm livestock. This suggests that at this epicenter, the virus is likely to spread through zoonoses (or animal-to-person spread). Zoonoses isn’t new, nor is it uncommon. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the domestication of horses led to the virus responsible for the common cold in humans (rhinoviruses), while the domestication of chickens gave humans chickenpox, shingles, and various strains of the bird flu. Pigs were also the source of influenza. Not to mention measles, smallpox, and tuberculosis arose from cattle.
Nearly 75% of infectious diseases are the result of zoonotic crossovers, and the current coronavirus is no exception. When a virus successfully jumps between species via zoonoses, it creates “patient zero," and that version of the virus in turn succeeds in making the jump to a second human. These people are then constituted as the first two human vectors of a human-to-human virus transmission.
Wuhan’s exotic taste in dishes prepared with non-traditional livestock, namely the customary "Bat Soup" sparked outrage across the internet. Several social media posts began to circulate regarding prepared meals with bats causing the initial circulation of the virus. This suggestion isn't confirmed by the CDC. Instead their responses stated that while it is likely the disease has its origin in animals, there's no indication that this particular case of coronaviruses has its origin in bats. A recent scientific study on the the clinical features of patients infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China states, that only 66% of 41 initial patients had been exposed to Huanan seafood market (out of the hundreds, if not thousands that were infected). Tabloids like the Daily Mail and social media outlets such as Twitter, and Facebook quickly resurfaced old videos of Chinese people eating bats and mice that had nothing to do with the current outbreak. The infamous video with the "Bat Soup" on Daily Mail didn't even take place in China.
Pinpointing the exact emergence is not merely an academic exercise; it has implications for the xenophobia that sometimes accompanies disease outbreaks. People see what they want to and when the cards fall coincidentally, people are quick to judge, pulling out phantom solutions that are toxically misleading. It’s ridiculous; it’s ignorance; it’s cheap; and it’s escapism for uncertainty.
There's nothing more widespread than passing judgement and it sets us back years. It's a vicious cycle of monkey see, monkey do. It's hard to pinpoint the exact origin of the disease as "patient zero" is the only one to truly know. For now, the CDC can only report that a growing number of patients reportedly did not have exposure to animal markets, indicating rapid person-to-person spread. The exact genesis remains to be discovered. So by the time you sit around a table and talk about how we got through the pandemic, you can be confident we did so armed with facts and not prejudices.