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The triple canopy of infection, birds over cats over pigs cascading feces, urine and DNA, returns


I've appropriated the tropical term triple canopy forest (also here) to describe the triple canopy of infection prevalent in China and Asia, birds over cats over pigs cascading feces, urine and DNA to a new 'forest floor' on traditional wet markets (photo, video) where recombination can work wonders in proximity to man. Similar cage stacking of wild and domesticated animals was widely seen in the SARS epidemic:

SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, first appeared in China in 2002. It spread widely in early 2003 to infect at least 8,098 people in 26 countries, according to the World Health Organization. The disease died out later in 2003, and no cases have been reported since.

A refresher on SARS, including its timeline:

Wet markets run the gammet in quality, cleanliness and oversight:

For some customers, it is important to see the animal live before being sold. Specifically, they may want to check for health condition and quality. This is generally not an option in supermarkets, except in lobster or fish booths. Most wet markets have facilities for allowing a customer to choose a live animal, then either take it home as is or watch it expertly killed and "cleaned" - gutted, etc. - before their very eyes. Some big-box stores, such as Walmart, provide these facilities in their Far Eastern stores, but not in their U.S. stores...

If sanitation standards are not maintained, wet markets can easily spread disease and viruses. Because of the openness, newly introduced animals may come in direct contact with sales clerks, butchers and customers. Insects such as flies have relatively easy access to the food products.

I admit to a fondness for wet markets, having spent much time in them and eaten their street food. Unfortunately I have seen some that are nothing short of an unregulated, unsupervised viral Petri dish, and from those I move along.

As the attention to SARS, even avian flu, has ebbed in China as its economy accelerates, old habits that foster new outbreaks reassert themselves.

"You can eat anything with four legs except the dinner table"

While major cities have upwardly mobile populations concerned about food safety and able to seek out branded items, the balance of the country depends on "traditional wet markets... for the bulk of fresh food sales."

"The concept of buying food once a week and putting it in your fridge doesn't really exist in China yet. It's produced today, bought today, and eaten later today"... And dangerous tastes persist under the radar...

An outbreak of the SARS virus in 2002 resulted in a local gourmet favorite -- the civet -- being banished to the black market. The raccoon-like animal was blamed for spreading SARS, which infected 8,000 people globally and killed 800. But exotic wildlife and squalor have returned to the Qingping market [in Guangzhou], making health officials worried that another killer virus could emerge...

"We face similar threats from other viruses and such epidemics can happen because we continue to have very crowded markets in China... Even though official measures are in place, they are not faithfully followed. We are not talking about just civet cats, but all animals."

"Civet cats are forbidden, and sanitation is an important issue. Most live animals are sold on the city's outskirts. You can see it's more of a normal market now."

While Qingping is dotted with posters such as "Everyone should honor the policy of paying attention to product safety," the reality is far different:

In a dark shop near the new medicine mall, feces and urine drip like goo through stacked cages of squawking chickens and meowing cats... Although Guangdong authorities culled thousands of civets in January 2004, investigators recently found the animals, as well as badgers and pangolins, on the black market and in Guangdong's "wild flavor" restaurants, where diners hope exotic meats will bring good fortune... Among Qingping's cats and chickens were tiger paws, turtles, insects of myriad varieties, and bundled strips of shredded toads -- some food, others medicine.

It was two years after SARS was brought under control, that investigators determined that the Chinese horseshoe bat was the "healthy carrier" and host repository for SARS, and not civets:

SARS now appears to join a number of other infectious agents that bats can transmit. Over the last decade, bats have been found as the source of two newly discovered human infections caused by the Nipah and Hendra viruses that can produce encephalitis and respiratory disease. In the SARS outbreak, attention focused on the role of Himalayan palm civets in transmitting it after scientists identified the virus in this species and in a raccoon dog sold in markets in Guangdong. But W.H.O. officials and scientists elsewhere cautioned that these species were most likely only intermediaries in the transmission, largely because no widespread infection could be found in wild or farmed civets...

"The SARS outbreak was a strong reminder that new viruses can emerge, and whether new or old, pathogens can cause not only significant disease and death, but they can also have a global socioeconomic impact," said Brenda Hogue, [who] has been involved in a big push to uncover some of the key clues behind coronavirus illness.

When SARS emerged, no one could have predicted that a new coronavirus, usually the culprit of nothing more than a common cold in humans, could become so harmful and spread so quickly through health systems from China to Canada.

The stakes are high. One only has to reflect on possible Avian flu variants:

And for the open secret of cutting corners in China, which make for difficulties in many areas beyond wet markets:

Wet Market Renovation
(that's Guangzhou)
Updated: 2004-03-11 15:36
China Daily
December 12, 2007

China Market May Be Breeding Ground For Deadly Viruses
By Joseph Chaney
Dec 10, 2007 10:42am EST

wet market
The Shanghai Show
Posted on Thursday, September 27th, 2007 at 9:33 am

Penang's Gem of a Wet Market
Eating Asia
September 11, 2007

SARS: Getting To The Core Of An Emergent Public Health Threat
Source: Arizona State University
Science Daily
May 16, 2007

What the heck is a wet market?
Posted by The Culinary Chase at 8/25/2006
The Culinary Chase
Friday, August 25, 2006

Chinese avoid wild animals
AP/Gulf News
Published: 04/19/2006 12:00 AM (UAE)

2 Teams Identify Chinese Bat as SARS Virus Hiding Place
New York Times
September 30, 2005

The Wet Market
By usabaker
Philippines Through My Eyes
Thursday, August 11, 2005

Klang Valley Streets: Marketing the wet market
NST Online

Timeline: Sars virus
BBC News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 July, 2004, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK

W.H.O. Urges China to Use Caution While Killing Civet Cats
New York Times
January 6, 2004

Inter-species transmission of SARS being investigated
By Joy Su
Oct 30, 2003

China Lags in Sharing SARS Clues, Officials Say
New York Times
August 2, 2003

Gordon Housworth

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