Are we going to die? Should I not travel? Am I safe to go to the grocery store? Are you going to help stop this?
Being a dual degree MPH/DVM student I have had a lot of exposure to the news surrounding the coronavirus outbreak as part of discussion in my classes as well as being asked a myriad of questions since the start of the outbreak.
One of the most important parts to address on this virus is its zoonotic nature. This novel virus, a virus strain we have never seen before, was introduced through interactions of humans and animals, particularly wildlife at a place called a wet market.
Wet markets are markets where people can buy living livestock and wildlife. These places are typically unregulated, and can often deal with endangered and protected species. They are very common in Asia – especially China, where it is common to eat wildlife as part of traditional medicine. Animal in Wet Markets may be bought and held as property, pets or consumed as food. Animals are often slaughtered on-site in Wet Markets (hence, “wet” can refer to blood and fluids).
Wet Markets serve as ample opportunity for exposure to internal organs and ability to aerosolize pathogens. By doing this they are the perfect place for infectious pathogens to jump species, particularly zoonotic viruses that like to mutate, such as coronaviruses.
Though I cannot comment on the nature of this newly declared global health emergency from the WHO, or give deeper recommendations other than to make sure you are washing your hands to being cautious and aware of symptoms, I think it’s important to focus on how this virus came about in the first place: through zoonotic contact with wildlife in wet markets.
Another interesting and short article about wet markets: http://news.cornell.edu/media-relations/tip-sheets/better-hygiene-wont-stop-coronavirus-its-time-shut-down-wet-markets