Over 70% of emerging diseases may come from wild animals, warns WHO
The World Health Organization (WHO), in conjunction with other leading international agencies, said on Tuesday that wild animals are likely to contribute to over 70% of all emerging diseases in humans and called for a halt to the sale of live mammals in food markets across the globe. The agencies have drawn up a new guidance aimed "to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19 and other zoonoses in traditional food markets". It warned that 'wet markets', such as the one in Wuhan which is linked to the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, pose significant problems when they allow the sale and slaughter of live wild animals in areas open to the public.
The agencies that have joined WHO in drawing up the fresh documentation are the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). "WHO, OIE and UNEP call on all national competent authorities to suspend the trade in live caught wild animals of mammalian species for food or breeding and close sections of food markets selling live caught wild animals of mammalian species as an emergency measure unless demonstrable effective regulations and adequate risk assessment are in place," the document reads.
It recalled that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, responsible for the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, had links to a wholesale traditional food market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, with many of the initial patients stall owners, market employees, or regular visitors to the market. Not just the present pandemic, some of the earliest known cases of epidemic outbreaks within the coronavirus family -- the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012 -- also had links to zoonotic viruses.
Most emerging infectious diseases, such as the Lassa fever, Marburg haemorraghic fever, Nipah viral infections and other viral diseases also have viral diseases also have wildlife origins, the agencies said. Research indicates that there is "strong association" between the marketing and sale of live wild animals and the emergence of novel zoonotic pathogens, the document notes, adding, "Animals, particularly wild animals, are reported to be the source of more than 70% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans, many of which are caused by novel viruses."
The agencies called for improved hygiene standards in traditional food markets and tougher regulations to control the farming and sale of wild animals heading to markets for human consumption. This was a necessary to reduce the risk of transmitting diseases from animals, and between people, the documentation notes.
Click here for the complete interim guidance issued by WHO, the OIE, and the UN environment programme for reducing reducing public health risks associated with the sale of live wild animals of mammalian species in traditional food markets.