This article by David Quammen appeared on January 28, 2020, in the NYTimes. That seems a long time ago in light of what has transpired in February, March, and half of April; however, the article has aged well.
Quammen is the author of “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.” He offers glancing insights into the predicament of scientists whose work begs for the attention of what seems a resolutely heedless world.
That the virus emerged from a nonhuman animal, probably a bat, and possibly after passing through another creature, may seem spooky, yet it is utterly unsurprising to scientists who study these things…
One such scientist is Zheng-Li Shi, of the Wuhan Institute of Virology… It was Ms. Shi and her collaborators who, back in 2005, showed that the SARS pathogen was a bat virus that had spilled over into people. Ms. Shi and colleagues have been tracing coronaviruses in bats since then, warning that some of them are uniquely suited to cause human pandemics.
“We’ve been raising the flag on these viruses for 15 years… Ever since SARS.” (Peter Daszak, one of Ms. Shi’s longtime partners.)
The list of such viruses emerging into humans sounds like a grim drumbeat: Machupo, Bolivia, 1961; Marburg, Germany, 1967; Ebola, Zaire and Sudan, 1976; H.I.V., recognized in New York and California, 1981; a form of Hanta (now known as Sin Nombre), southwestern United States, 1993; Hendra, Australia, 1994; bird flu, Hong Kong, 1997; Nipah, Malaysia, 1998; West Nile, New York, 1999; SARS, China, 2002-3; MERS, Saudi Arabia, 2012; Ebola again, West Africa, 2014. And that’s just a selection. Now we have nCoV-2019, the latest thump on the drum.
(David Quammen, “We Made the Coronavirus Epidemic,” NYTimes, 1-28-20).
(c) 2020 JMN