A woman wearing a mask is pictured on the escalator at a subway station in Beijing. Reuters
The outbreak of a mysterious respiratory illness in China
has triggered panic and revived the horrendous memories associated with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS epidemic caused by coronavirus which swept many South East Asian countries in 2002-03 and claimed nearly 800 lives before it was reined in through effective preventive and transmission control measures.
Though the new infection, believed to have been transmitted from animals, was first detected in Wuhan province in mid-December 2019, it has now spread its wings to several other countries such as Japan, Thailand and South Korea. A whopping 75 per cent of the new diseases that have affected humans over the last decade have been caused by pathogens hosted by animals or from products of animal origin. Population pressure and clearing vegetation for urban expansion and agriculture is bringing humans, domestic animals and poultry into closer contact with animals such as rodents, primates and bats which are known to be carriers of diseases.
Factors such as the genetic make-up of most viruses
— which allows them to jump from animal hosts to humans, causes high adaptability against the human immune system and induces resistance to drugs — and the speed and volume of air travel are contributing in significant measures to the easy spread of these diseases. With the new mysterious respiratory illness emerging as a public health challenge in China
and spreading its wings to several other countries, no stone should be left unturned to contain its transmission.
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