Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
You know how I keep mentioning how we (humans) and everything else are all interdependent and interconnected to each other? Perhaps humans should be considered proportionately more responsible for taking care of the earth’s environments—as most would probably consider us smarter than many other animals. Although, to that point, it seems recently that assumption could easily be questioned.
I thought I’ll do my article, but I’m not going to write about the coronavirus! Well, here we are amid a pandemic with the coronavirus, an entity about which we know little but are learning something new every day.
We are told it came from Wuhan, China in a wet market with a vast variety of seafood and other animals up for sale—including bats and pangolins. Pangolins are a scaly mammal that can roll up in a ball, like our armadillo. Apparently, humans did not get the viral disease directly from the bats. First, in bats, the coronavirus is an intestinal disease, not a respiratory illness. So, it seems strange that it creates a respiratory illness in humans. However, we must remember that viruses may also mutate readily, and that can change its characteristics. If infected bats drop their feces onto forage or insects on the ground and are eaten by the pangolin then they can contract the disease. Researchers in China published that the genetics of the virus in the pangolin is 99% the same as that identified in humans. This information was reported in a Chinese newspaper and has yet to be published in a scientific journal.
Regardless, the virus has spread to humans through an intermediary thought (but not yet proven) to be the pangolin, who were previously not infected by it and certainly not on a worldwide scale as we are currently experiencing. Being an ecologist, I started wondering what it does to bats. Bats are so valuable and important to us. The virus being from Asia probably didn’t naturally occur here. What if the virus got into our bats here somehow and had dire effects because it’s “new” to our geographic area? It has now been documented in tigers, dogs and cats. However, there are no known cases of transmittal of the virus from those animals to humans. I also could find no documentation the virus causes a fatal disease in dogs, cats or other animals. But the reality is, we don’t know.
So much anxiety exists because of the pandemic; assumptions about the disease, its cause and process are being publicized. Normally, these types of assumptions are not made public until a variety of research studies have been completed, the study and results evaluated by other scientists, and are fully vetted by doctors, virologists and research scientists. One piece of evidence that strongly points to the pangolin is that DNA tests of the COVID-19 virus in humans and pangolins are documented at 99% the same. So, if it were like a paternity test, in all likelihood, congratulations, you’re the dad at 99%.
Bats are so marvelous and mysterious. One time I was down in the far south end of the valley floor doing some night spotlighting for counting San Joaquin kit foxes on a potential project site. The entire rangeland was swarming with grasshoppers and crickets. As I was driving, crickets and hoppers were colliding with my head as the truck window was open; it’s easier to spotlight wildlife with the window open. It was crazy! Then suddenly swarms of pallid bats appeared. They were moving in from the lower part of the foothills where they roost in rock outcrops. Swoop, swoop, and down to the ground. It took a couple minutes to figure out that they were catching and munching on the grasshoppers! A few times a large one would be caught, and the bat would land on a mound on the ground and munch on it. Sometimes I see bats in my neighborhood near the house, but not in the large numbers as out in the rangeland that night. That said, in a single night, a bat can scoop up and eat their entire body weight in mosquitoes. That is a LOT of mosquitoes. Bats are important to our human ecosystem by helping to reduce and control insect populations of all kinds, including mosquitoes. Imagine if they weren’t eating all those grasshoppers and mosquitoes!
This isn’t the first pandemic experienced in the United States. Until now, I can only talk about one, and that was the H3N2 Hong Kong flu in 1968-69. It lasted over a period of a couple years. I lived in Washington state and picked it up on my job working at a ski resort. I got so sick I couldn’t work, lost my job, and they had to replace me. My doctor told me I was the only person in 1.5 million people in our county to have both the alpha and beta strains of H3N2 at the same time. Upon study, it was determined that the Hong Kong flu virus was a recombination of human and avian (bird) flu viruses. Note that the virus in bats was an intestinal infection, and now, in humans, it is a respiratory infection. The virus has changed since it infected bats.
As of April 15th, the death toll in the U.S. for the coronavirus was 28,442 people while the worldwide estimated death toll was about 134,000. But compare that to the worldwide death toll of the Hong Kong flu which was one million people! Even now, after all these years, scientists still could not figure out how the avian virus identified with the Hong Kong flu was able to infect humans. Even though the death rate is high, it is leveling off. Having counted since January, a quarter of a year, if we multiply the total fatalities we have now by 4 (which is a high estimate considering the rate is leveling off), the total is still far less than the million deaths of the Hong Kong flu in 1968-69 for both our state and the world. So, for the record, we have had worse pandemics and there is still a lot we don’t know, including whether there may be a second “round.” We are ignorant, plain and simple.
So, be safe. Avoid close human contact. Don’t touch your face with your hands. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Throw your used tissues away, and clean used surfaces with disinfectant. Relax or meditate to help reduce anxiety, and last, but not least, be smart, and don’t eat any bat guano!