Wildlife trade amplifies spread of coronaviruses


The proportion of rats testing positive for viruses jumped substantially between the start and end of Vietnam’s supply chain

Asia’s booming wildlife trade is fuelling the spread of coronaviruses by providing the ideal opportunity for animals to infect each other and potentially humans, two studies have found.

Across Asia, wild animals including rodents, pangolins and bats are transported, often illegally, thousands of miles in crowded and chaotic conditions for use in restaurants and traditional medicines.

Experts have long thought this amplifies the transmission of coronaviruses, making the possibility of a jump to humans more likely.

In one new study, published as a preprint without peer review, researchers analysed oral swabs from more than 2,000 field rats in three provinces in southern Vietnam. They found that the animals smuggled across the Mekong River Delta, from traders to restaurants, tested positive for six different coronaviruses. More significantly, the incidence of infection increased significantly along their journey.

Roughly 20 per cent of wild rats caught by traders tested positive for at least one coronavirus, rising to 32 per cent of rodents in large markets. In restaurants, the final step in the chain, 55 per cent of rats were infected.

“The observed viral amplification along the wildlife trade supply chain for human consumption likely resulted from the mixing and close confinement of stressed live animals,” the researchers wrote.
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