Why Do New Disease Outbreaks Always Seem to Start in China?

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“There’s lots of livestock farming, particularly poultry and pigs, with limited sanitation and lax oversight.”

Feb 18, 2020

Real Clear Science – The Asian Flu in 1956 killed between one and four million people worldwide. SARS in 2002 infected 8,098 and killed 774 in seventeen counties.

H7N9 emerged ten years later to strike at least 1,223 people and kill four out of every ten of them.

Now, the milder, yet more infectious COVID-19 has sickened more than 70,000 across the globe, resulting in 1,771 deaths.

All of these outbreaks originated in China, but why?

Why is China such a hotspot for novel diseases?

Dr. Steven Novella recently opined on an episode of the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe”

“It’s not a big mystery why this is happening… lots of concentrated population, with intimate contact with lots of species of animals that are potential reservoirs, and they don’t have great hygiene required. It’s a recipe for spitting out these kinds of viruses,”

South Central China is a noted “mixing vessel” for viruses, Dr. Peter Daszak, President of EcoHealth Alliance, told PBS in 2016.

There’s lots of livestock farming, particularly poultry and pigs, with limited sanitation and lax oversight.

Farmers often bring their livestock to “wet markets” where they can come into contact with all sorts of exotic animals.

The various birds, mammals, and reptiles host viruses that can jump species and rapidly mutate, even potentially infecting humans.

Experts are pretty sure this is precisely what happened with the current COVID-19 coronavirus, which is why, on January 30th, China issued a temporary ban on the trade of wild animals.

There are also cultural reasons why China plays host to large outbreaks.

“Many Chinese people, even city dwellers, insist that freshly slaughtered poultry is tastier and more healthful than refrigerated or frozen meat,” journalist Melinda Liu wrote for Smithsonian in 2017.

“The public’s taste for freshly killed meat, and the conditions at live markets, create ample opportunity for humans to come in contact … ” Read more. 

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