“How can this be happening…”

“And all this because people still eat weird shit”

“How can one even begin to consider eating bats, civets, pangolins…Or monkeys!? Immoral meat, that’s what it should be called, immoral meat and it should be banned everywhere in the world”

I gripped a thin, sharp but dusty edge with my finger tips and crimped my way up a 2 meter rock face. When I reached the top of the ledge I squatted on the edge like a baboon and stared down over the water to spot fish, the fear of possible lock down an irritating distraction in the back of my mind. I watched the water while dealing with the grim realities of COVID-19, but didn’t see anything that excited me, just milky green water, the even wind ripple across the pool blurring my vision through polarised lenses.

After about ten minutes of unsocial thoughts a large fish broke the surface close to my perch, it happened fast but my reaction was quick enough to see a flash of bright yellow in the giant splash; the steep, barren hills of the wide valley threw back the echo of the tail slap. “Sheez that was a big fish”

Feeling somewhat under gunned with my 5 wt I started to cast in the direction of the ‘rise’. Nothing happened. Ten casts later without a bite I decided to change flies. I picked a bright white number from my zonker box, a colour that could ‘pop’ in the murky water. Slightly more relaxed, I cast it to the area where the fish moved.

Fishing in ‘isolation’, far away from human masses and viral disease outbreaks, is good for health and the soul…

The pool had gone dead quiet again and I wondered if the fish was even still in the vicinity of where it splashed. Stripping the fly back at a fair pace I tried to spot it under the surface. I decided that the little zonker looked ‘fishy’ and with a bit more confidence I cast it out as far as possible toward the centre of the pool. While staring at the foreign red and black cliff face full of thorny bushes on my left I completely forgot about the fishing for a moment. A big baboon barked from the far bank, which drew my attention to monkeys again.

I thought about other scary viruses, like HIV and ebola and their association with primates. “All likely due to the consumption of under-cooked monkey meat…Ffs” I muttered as I thought of how scientists traced these diseases back to African primates, HIV-1 likely coming from chimpanzees and HIV-2 from sooty mangabeys, and the consumption of nonhuman primates being the most likely source of ebola.

Suddenly the line got pulled tight and I snapped out of my gloom, just in time to feed line out as the fish started to speed up and loops of fly line jumped dangerously close to wrapping around my reel. I sighed with relief as the last of the slack tightened up smoothly through my stripping hand and rod guides; the power of the distressed fish ‘running’ away from me bent the Sage XP at a sharp angle over the water.

I waved my fishing companion over for a hand with the net; after he scooped it and the net safely enfolded the fish I noticed my hands shaking of the adrenaline. I was in my happy place and got one last taste of the good life before lock down.

In my happy place, where the ‘world’ pauses momentarily and problems are forgotten. Photo by William Lotter

 

I am a microbiologist and have always wanted to read up on the scientific facts behind some of our more feared viral diseases (including HIV and ebola, etc.) that affect human health and well-being, and potentially our fishing trips (there are many rumours about these diseases, but what is fact?):

COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease 2019 – also see http://www.nicd.ac.za/diseases-a-z-index/covid-19/)

Causative agent: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)

When: 31 December 2019

Where: Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China

Source and/or host(s): Suspect zoonotic source – coronaviruses are known to spread from animals to humans (see – https://asm.org/Press-Releases/2020/COVID-19-Resources; Kahn et al., 2020); COVID-19 was transmitted to humans from markets where wild animals were sold (Hui et al., 2020). Genetic studies of this coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) have shown a resemblance to those originating from bats (see – 10.1128/JCM.00187-20; Kahn et al., 2020).

Status: Current viral disease outbreak in humans.

 

SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome – also see www.cdc.gov/sars)

Causative agent: SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV)

When: February 2003

Where: Guangdong, China (Zhong et al., 2003)

Source and host(s): Suspect zoonotic source – coronaviruses are known to spread from animals to humans (see – https://asm.org/Press-Releases/2020/COVID-19-Resources); it was reported to have spread from a market where civets were sold (Cui et al., 2019; and Zhong et al., 2003). Similar to SARS-CoV-2, this virus displays genetic similarity to other bat coronaviruses.

Status: Caused a viral disease outbreak in humans in 2002-2003 (according to available literature online, no cases have been reported in the world since 2004). Declared as a Select Agent in the USA in 2012 (www.cdc.gov/sars) – A select agent is a bacterium, virus or toxin that has the potential to pose a severe threat to public health and safety.

 

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)

Causative agent(s): two lentiviruses, human immunodeficiency viruses types 1 and 2 (HIV-1 and HIV-2)

When: Discovered in 1981 (Sharp and Hahn, 2011)

Where: Traced to Africa

Source and host(s): Zoonotic transfers of lentiviruses infecting primates in Africa (Hahn et al. 2000). Interestingly, HIV-2 (antigenically distinct form of HIV causing AIDS in patients in western Africa (Clavel et al. 1986)) was closely related to a simian virus causing immunodeficiency in captive macaques (Chakrabarti et al. 1987; Guyader et al. 1987); several other simian viruses have been discovered since – collectively called simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs) – that display similarity to HIV 1 & 2 and are found in African green monkeys, sooty mangabeys, mandrills, chimpanzees, and other monkeys (Sharp and Hahn, 2011). The closest simian virus relatives to HIV 1 & 2 were found in chimpanzees (Huet et al. 1990) and sooty mangabeys (Hirsch et al., 1989) and there is scientific evidence that AIDs resulted in humans from cross-infections of such lentiviruses resulting in HIV 1 and HIV 2 (Sharp and Hahn, 2011).

Status: Current.

 

EVD (Ebola Virus Disease)

Causative agent(s): Viruses within the genus Ebolavirus

When: Discovered in 1976

Where: Near the Ebola River, Democratic Republic of Congo

Source and host(s): Scientists speculate that the virus is animal-borne – bats or nonhuman primates being the most likely source. It is believed that direct interaction with wildlife (especially the consumption of bushmeat) might have resulted in the spread of ‘Ebola virus’. Four, namely Ebola, Sudan, Taï Forest, and Bundibugyo viruses, are known to cause disease in humans (see: www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola).

 

Final thoughts: According to trace studies performed by scientists, it is evident that these viruses might all have come from our contact with and consumption of wild animals, and in the case of these likely bats, monkeys, and other animals that may subsequently become infected with these viruses, such as civets (and maybe even those poor pangolins which were blamed for spreading COVID-19?). Even though trade of such wild animals have become illegal in many countries, I believe the market is not ‘dead’ and that humans will continue to smuggle wild animals due to the money involved. As I’ve pointed out to a company experiencing microbial problems in their production plant, “microbes have a way to resurface, so preventative measures are key, rather than treatment of the ‘symptoms’” and guess what, a year later the company had the same problem again…No matter how good our preventative measures are, if humans are to continue with wild animal trade and/or consumption of abovementioned animals, whether legal or not, we will remain at risk of future viral disease outbreaks causing harm to our health and many other unnecessary problems, like travelling constraints and economic losses. Sincerest condolences to those who have lost family members and friends due to the COVID-19 outbreak across the world.

References:

Chakrabarti, L., M. Guyader, M. Alizon, M.D. Daniel, R.C. Desrosiers, P. Tiollais, and P. Sonigo.  1987. Sequence of simian immunodeficiency virus from macaque and its relationship to other human and simian retroviruses. Nature 328: 543-547.

Clavel, F., D. Guetard, F. Brun-Vezinet, S. Chamaret, M.A. Rey, M.O. Santos-Ferreira, A.G. Laurent, C. Dauguet, C. Katlama, C. Rouzioux, et al. 1986. Isolation of a new human retrovirus from West African patients with AIDS. Science 233: 343-346.

Cui, J., F. Li, and Z.L. Shi. 2019. Origin and evolution of pathogenic coronaviruses. Nature Reviews Microbiology 17:181-192.

Guyader,  M., M. Emerman, P. Sonigo, F. Clavel, L. Montagnier, and M. Alizon. 1987. Genome organization and transactivation of the human immunodeficiency virus type 2. Nature 326: 662-669

Hahn, B.H., G.M. Shaw, K.M. De Cock, and P.M. Sharp. 2000. AIDS as a zoonosis: Scientific and public health implications. Science 287: 607-614.

Hirsch, V.M., R.A. Olmsted, M. Murphey-Corb, R.H. Purcell, and P.R. Johnson. 1989. An African primate lentivirus (SIVsm) closely related to HIV-2. Nature 339: 389-392.

Huet, T., R. Cheynier, A. Meyerhans, G. Roelants, and S. Wain-Hobson. 1990. Genetic organization of a chimpanzee lentivirus related to HIV-1. Nature 345: 356-359

Hui, D.S., E. I Azhar, T.A. Madani, F. Ntoumi, R. Kock, O. Dar, G. Ippolito, T.D. Mchugh, Z.A. Memish, C. Drosten, A. Zumla, and E. Petersen. 2020. The continuing 2019-nCoV epidemic threat of novel coronaviruses to global health — The latest 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China. International Journal of Infectious Diseases 91:264-266.

Kahn, S., R. Siddique, M.A. Shereen, A. Ali, J. Liu, Q. Bai, N. Bashir, and M. Xue. The emergence of a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), their biology and therapeutic options. Journal of Clinical Microbiology DOI: 10.1128/JCM.00187-20.

Sharp, P.M., and B.H. Hahn. 2011. Origins of HIV and the AIDS Pandemic. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine Sep 1(1).

Zhong, N.S., B.J. Zheng, Y.M. Li, L.L.M. Poon, Z.H. Xie, K.H. Chan, P.H. Li, S.Y. Tan, Q. Chang, and J.P. Xie. 2003. Epidemiology and cause of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Guangdong, People’s Republic of China, in February, 2003. Lancet 362:1353-1358.

In cases of epidemics and pandemics causing global panic I’d rather be fishing in remote areas…