World, Europe

Stop sale of live wild mammals in food markets: WHO

Animals source of more than 70% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans, according to global agencies

Peter Kenny   | 13.04.2021
Stop sale of live wild mammals in food markets: WHO


The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday reiterated its call for a ban on the sale of live wild mammals in traditional food markets to prevent future crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Animals, particularly wild animals, are the source of more than 70% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans, many of which are caused by novel viruses,” the agency said in a joint statement with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the UN Environment Program (UNEP).

“Wild mammals, in particular, pose a risk for the emergence of new diseases. They come into markets without any way to check if they carry dangerous viruses.”

The organizations said most emerging infectious diseases – such as Lassa fever, Marburg hemorrhagic fever, and Nipah viral infections – have wildlife origins.

“Within the coronavirus family, zoonotic viruses were linked to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which was first detected in 2012,” the agencies said.

Fadela Chaib, a WHO spokesperson, said it is vital to understand that most emerging infectious diseases originate in wild animals, so curbing the trade of these animals will reduce the chances of a future virus spillover.

“This is not a new recommendation, but COVID-19 has brought new attention to this threat, given the magnitude of its consequences,” Chaib said at a news briefing.

Such markets exist in China, where COVID-19 was first discovered at the end of 2019, and there was also one in Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have made the jump to humans.

According to the WHO, one theory is that COVID-19 was initially transmitted to human beings through an intermediary animal host that is still unidentified.

“Another possibility is that the virus was transmitted directly from a host species of animal to humans,” the statement said.

There is risk of direct transmission to humans that come into contact with the saliva, blood, urine, mucus, feces, or other body fluids of an infected animal, according to the WHO.

There is also risk of infection through contact with areas where animals are housed in markets or contaminated objects or surfaces.

Acknowledging the “central role” of traditional markets in providing food and livelihoods, the statement pointed out that stopping the sale of these animals will help protect the health of people working and shopping at these markets.

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