Coronavirus Scare: Are Eggs, Mutton Safe?

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by Zubair Ahmad War

The current Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc throughout the globe. Almost five lakh people have been affected by the viral disease. It has already caused more than 20,000 deaths and the global economy has been badly hit. Mostly the richest countries of Europe, North America, Middle East and Asia have been severely affected. We have encountered catastrophic pandemic diseases in the past like the pandemics of Plague, Cholera and Spanish flu. In fact, in 1918 the Spanish flu affected around 500 million people worldwide and killed around 50 to 100 million.

During the previous pandemics, the medicine was in its primitive stage. The electron microscope was yet to be discovered and Virus term was un-coined. It was a pre-antibiotic era as antibiotics had not been discovered by Alexander Fleming and anti-viral drugs were out of the question. The modern diagnostic methods were inconceivable at that time.

A deserted view of Lal Chowk area of Srinagar during restrictions on the movement of people in several areas as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of novel Coronavirus disease on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

However, in contemporary times medical science has advanced a lot. The culprit virus has already been identified and presently scientists are developing a vaccine against it. In the near future, the disease would hopefully be under control.

It is believed that the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) originated from a live wildlife market in China. In China, the wild animals are not only consumed as food but their parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Invertebrates, as well as vertebrates, are consumed as food whereas parts of certain feral animals such as bear bile, pangolin scales are used in Chinese traditional medicine.

Most of these wild animals act as reservoir hosts of parasites and microbes. In such wild animal markets, the different species of wild animals are caged and sold in the proximity of each other wherein their excreta, blood, the pus comes in contact. Thereby the microbes harboured by them are not only directly transmitted to human handlers but the genomes of various microbes too get mixed and new types of microbial strains are created which subsequently are transmitted to people causing various “emerging diseases” such as the current Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, about 75% of all the emerging infectious diseases of humans such as Ebola, Nipah, Swine Flu emerge from wildlife.

Jammu region is producing 21.7crore table eggs and around 400 lakh kg of poultry meat annually. (KL Image Bilal Bahadur)

The coronavirus is enveloped, positive-sense, single-stranded, RNA virus with a nucleocapsid of helical symmetry. In the family Coronaviridae it is the genus Betacoronavirus which is zoonotic and in the past caused human outbreaks of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in the year 2002 in China and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in Saudi Arabia in the year 2012 and is the causative agent of current Covid-19.

However, the Avian coronavirus (Infections Bronchitis virus) finds its place in genus Gammacoronavirus and it is not zoonotic. Whereas the SARS outbreak was attributed to Civets, the MERS was due to Dromedary Camels, the current Covid-19 is believed to have been transmitted from bats to pangolins and from pangolins, the virus has made a jump to humans. The human to human transmission of the disease is currently occurring.

Deconstructing SARS-CoV-2

Unfortunately, certain unscientific attributes of coronavirus have gone viral over the social networking sites throughout the country. One such false attribute is that Covid-19 virus is transmitted from chickens to humans. As a result of the negative campaign, people are apprehensive of eating meat and eggs. This has led to tremendous losses to the chicken industry especially the poor farmers, the wholesalers and the retailers. The consumers too have been deprived of an economic and nutritious class of meat.

The transmission of coronavirus has not been shown to occur from chicken to humans. If the birds are handled hygienically and meat is properly cooked its consumption is absolutely safe. Pertinently, the same principle of hygienic handling and proper cooking, washing applies to all edibles including vegetables and fruits, not just meat or eggs! As a general precautionary measure for tackling the deadly virus frequent washing of hands with soap for a minimum of 20 seconds or applying of alcohol-based sanitizers has been advocated.

Zubair A Lone

The deadly but tiny coronavirus measures a few nanometers in size. Like any other virus, it is non-living outside its host whereas it becomes alive within the cells of its victim wherein it not only survives but multiplies too at a rapid rate. Thereafter, it targets the immune system and finally leads to a lethal disease. It is spread from one person to another via respiratory droplets produced during coughing and sneezing. Self-isolation and social distancing are the only preventive strategies and accordingly, the masses have been advised to stay in homes.

Meat intake is beneficial for the body vis-à-vis its ability to fight the infections. Meat contains proteins of high biological value that are essential for developing the immunity as the Immunoglobulins (antibodies) too are basically proteins. Besides proteins, meat contains essential nutrients including vitamins and minerals that are essential for boosting the immune system. Thus meat consumption in a hygienic manner is beneficial vis-à-vis fighting Covid-19.

(The author has bachelors and masters in veterinary sciences from SKUAST)

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