The biomass of the world’s poultry is three times that of all the wild birds combined. Pigs, which can also carry the flu, make up even more biomass. That’s a massive stockpile of virus.
BOYCE UPHOLT: Every viral pandemic since the dawn of the twentieth century seems to be the result of the same phenomenon: “spillover,” in which a virus adapted to some other species finds its way into human bodies. The SARS-CoV-2 spillover has become the most famous, and genetic analysis supports the idea that this leap occurred in a live market in Wuhan, China.
In reaction, the Chinese government banned the trade, sale, and consumption of most wild animals. The World Health Organization has called on other countries, too, to halt any trade of live or minimally processed wild mammals—or bushmeat, as it’s sometimes called.
These are worthwhile steps, to be sure, though we shouldn’t let ourselves presume that thereby we’ve solved the problem. Bushmeat is an easy target, at least for Americans, since it seems distant and dirty, the kind of commodity that a real civilization would have already left behind.
But the global wildlife trade is responsible for a tiny fraction of disease outbreaks, pointed out Colin Carlson, a biologist at Georgetown University who studies infectious diseases and global change. As for pandemics—the rare but consequential diseases that manage to spread across international borders—“it’s this one,” Carlson told me. “It’s just this one.”
The worst pandemic in modern history rocked the world in 1918: 500 million people infected, 50 million killed. Today, in our more populous world, an equally vicious virus would kill 200 million people, more than 30 times the death toll of Covid-19 so far. The disease is remembered today as Spanish flu, though that name does not record where the pandemic began, just one country where the press was willing to admit to the scale of the problem.
Virologists now believe that it emerged from birds on a farm in Kansas, then spread to a nearby military base, whose soldiers helped carry it across the world. It’s a reminder, Carlson noted, that a pandemic can start anywhere, even here in the United States. It’s also a reminder of why flu is so troubling: It can infect the domesticated animals we raise. The biomass of the world’s poultry is three times that of all the wild birds combined. Pigs, which can also carry the flu, make up even more biomass. That’s a massive stockpile of virus, no bushmeat needed. SOURCE…