By Harendra de Silva –
It is an interesting coincidence that Pandemics even those during the medieval periods, ranging from Plague, small pox or cholera followed the Silk Road. More recently, SARS Bird Influenza also originated in China although it did not take the Central Asian caravan route, it followed the ‘neo silk road’ by air!
Although rats transmitted the plague and look similar to bats, attributed in mythology as related and referred at times as an intermediate host in plague, they are not related in evolution but closer to humans than rats. It is incidentally the only flying mammal! Did you know that a fifth of all mammals are bats and considered to be one of the most successful mammals? Although often referred to as ‘blind as a bat’ bats sense their surroundings and find kill by calling out and heeding for echoes made that bounce off objects although those sounds are too high-pitched for humans to hear called echolocation
The importance of bat origin of Corona and other viruses was found only after SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003. Bats have numerous of other coronaviruses often hundreds; which may often be harmless and it may cause different respiratory illnesses, that varies from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) which infect via Camels that had a high fatality rate of 34%. (COVID-19 is new strain of the virus), different types of corona infect bats, which appear to co-evolve with the viruses. Other bat associated viruses that have caused panic epidemics include, Ebola, Nipah and Hanta virus. In other words, bats have immune systems and do not cause disease. However, these viruses can cross from bats to other animal species such as a civet cats (කලවැද්ද / හොතම්බුව – may be different species) causing SARS. Covid 19 crossed through pangolin (කැබැල්ලාව)/ snakes by its consumption by humans, resulting in deadly consequences in humans. Pandemics In History 3: From Rats To Bats – ODISHA BYTES
There are 3 unique features in bats
Firstly, comparative to body size, only 19 species of mammals live longer than humans; 18 of these 19 species are bats. They are the longest-living mammals in relation to weight, with the oldest bat recaptured >41 years old, (weighing ~7 g) Growing old, yet staying young: The role of telomeres in bats’ exceptional longevity | Science Advances (sciencemag.org). The key are telomeres at both ends of chromosomes. In human somatic cells, telomeres shorten with consecutive rounds of cell division. When telomeres become critically shortened, the cell elicits a DNA damage and cellular senescence. In bats, telomeres and DNA repair genes contribute to exceptional longevity.
The second exceptional feature in bats its extremely low incidence of cancer which probably is also related its longevity and maintaining DNA stability.
The third unique feature in bats is more important in the context of disease harbouring and spread. Bats do not demonstrate an inflammatory response to infection with the typical response of inflammatory mediators including cytokines that often leads to pathological damage to its own tissues. In humans, although the inflammatory reaction helps in fighting the infection, when appropriately precise in its production. However, when there is an inappropriate overdrive, a cytokine storm ensues damaging one’s own cells which has been previously shown more than 30 years ago in gram negative sepsis and HUS in shigellosis (PDF) Concentrations of IL-6 and TNF in serum and stools of children with Shigella dysenteriae 1 infection (researchgate.net). It is now shown in Covid 19 where it is the ‘protective’ body response that kills the patient rather than the virus itself. What has the bat got to do? Because, bats do not have this reaction, it can harbour such infections without showing any signs or symptoms and would not die, enabling it to spread to other animals and humans.
BUT, in order to prevent future pandemics should we destroy bats??
As Richard Ostfeld says, “Rats and bats thrive when we disrupt natural habitats. They are the most likely to promote transmissions (of pathogens). The more we disturb the forests and habitats, the more danger we are in.” Destroyed Habitat Creates the Perfect Conditions for Coronavirus to Emerge – Scientific American David Quammen, the author of Spillover: gives us the reason. “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it” Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic: Quammen, David: 9780393066807: Amazon.com: Books
Bats encourage biodiversity and sustenance of the health of their ecosystems. Bats are important for pollinating and scattering the seeds of thousands of species of plants. Bats are major pollinators of commercially valuable crops, like bananas, mangos, avocados and guavas. They eat abundant quantities of insects and harmful arthropods. On a typical night, a bat eats the equivalent up to its own body weight of such insects. According to a 2011 study in Science, insect consumption by bats reduces the pesticide bill of the agriculture industry in the United States by roughly $22.9 billion per year. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/332/6025/41.full
Disease outbreaks caused by wildlife trade are a global, not just a Chinese problem. Wildlife consumption is widespread across Southeast Asia, Sub Saharan Africa, Latin America as well as North America and Europe. In Central Africa alone the estimates are one billion kilograms per year. A recent study, showed that illegal bushmeat around 270 tonnes coming through a single airport in Paris annually. Illegal bushmeat ‘rife in Europe’ – BBC News. However, in January itself China put in place a nationwide ban on wildlife trade. Since the ban within 20 days, Chinese authorities investigated a huge number of cases and 2,347kg of wildlife confiscated. Probably a drop in the ocean!
Survival of the Homo sapiens
In evolution, apart from mutations, survival of species depend how we react to insecure situations or threats! ‘Fight or fight’ is an example for survival which depends more on the reptilian primitive brain in the amygdala-hypothalamic axis! Fight-or-flight response – Wikipedia and during pandemics and fear psychosis often created by the media we don’t use much of our conscious brain the cortex in such reflex activity. However, development of transport, weapons or scientific medicines/vaccines for survival we use the cerebral cortex. When a pandemic strikes, and we as scientists or governmental authorities cannot offer a treatment, humans look for a cure simply because they are insecure in terms of survival, and they are often forced to seek more unconventional means of treatment linked to different forms of knowledge beliefs and practices. Forget the modern era of 2020. Even in 1348 Medieval historian John Aberth writes on the Black Death: (The Great Mortality of 1348-1350), “…. doctors from every part of the world had no good remedy or effective cure, neither through natural philosophy, medicine, or the art of astrology. Aberth (1348) goes further to state, that “although there were no medical solutions, those peddling in various cures could profit from a plague”, and he argues that “To gain money some went visiting and dispensing their remedies, but these only demonstrated through their patients’ death that their art was nonsense and false”. Human behaviour is the same even today whether it be Trump’s Lysol, our local pedlars of Dhammika decoction or even state sponsored scientifically unproven broths. If you imagine the demand for the bee’s honey decoction, I wonder how this amount of bee’s honey was obtained? Either the whole of Sri Lankan forests were combed and all bees exterminated or as usual in keeping with the hoax; sugar syrup is substituted!! Interestingly, all these are inspired by supernatural beings such as Kali amma, God Natha or the ancient legend of Ravana which gives authenticity to the medication in a paradoxically highly literate but ill-informed hypothalamic driven gullible Sri Lankan society that does not use its rational cerebral cortex! During medieval pandemics some resorted to home cures such as bathing in urine or menstrual blood!
Medieval period records; when plague struck, the church with all its medical and spiritual wisdom could not provide a cure, people quite obviously looked towards authority in their lives, their kings and leaders, for example, saint-kings such as Saint Louis IX and Edward the Confessor who claimed miraculous curative powers or the Royal Touch Royal touch – Wikipedia. At times of the plague, it justified royalty as divinely powerful to win hearts of the people. Trump advocated injecting Lysol and other remedies, and he used this popularity on the illiterate and white racist population in the election campaign. Magical thinking processes and the desire to instil a leader with ultimate knowledge and unlimited insight portrays an authoritarian image of rulers, which relies on public ignorance in order to reinforce the notion of a divinely rigid hierarchical society, in order to create hero worship of leaders. We, In Sri Lanka, Royal healers close to authorities threw magically charmed pots into rivers, chanted harmless but questionable mantras around the island.
This is understandable, when people become restless during times of epidemics due to hunger and other survival issues and potentially cause unrest in the country: with the blessings of the media one can divert attention to “hope from hopelessness!!” The next ploy would be the hope of a vaccine! Although the WHO will provide 20% of the vulnerable population free of charge, we may show the people that billions have to be borrowed to save the lives of the people?? Trump took credit! why not us?
In Odisha India, a man’s head was chopped as a sacrifice to stop Covid in 2020. Animals and Jews were sacrificed in previous epidemics. Our own Vihara Mahadevi was sacrificed for a Tsunami. At present there are others who have offered to be sacrificed to save mother Lanka, What a laudable offer!
Conspiracy theories, Persecution of marginalized and Stigma!
Scholars at the University of Paris, attributed the Black Death (plague) to a “creation in March 20, 1345, from what they call “a triple conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in the 40th degree of Aquarius, occurring on the 20th of March 1345?” Black Death is created, allegedly – HISTORY. Even today such thoughts are entertained! “Astrostyle’s resident astrologer Matthew Swann predicted the likelihood of an economic “black swan” event that could be triggered by the January 12 (2020) Saturn-Pluto conjunction in Capricorn, the sign that rules governments and the economy.” Astrology, COVID-19 and the Black Swan Economic Crisis | The AstroTwins (astrostyle.com)
Xenophobic conspiracy theories targeted marginalized groups. Between 1348 and 1351 the ’burning of Jews’ shortly after, outbreaks of plague were accused of poisoning food, wells and streams, tortured into confessions, and slaughtered en masse. Subsequently witches were persecuted. Even today in Africa, Witches have been killed. The way governments handle situations leads to stigma. The unprofessional way we herd PCR positives and contacts brings fear and stigma often preventing people coming forward with symptoms is why most patients die at home, while spreading to hundreds in the meantime!
Xenophobia in the Trump mindset and Gravitas media (India) scapegoated it as the ‘Chinese or Wuhan’ virus. In Sri Lanka although not official, the marginalized communities are blamed which is due to a higher incidence in overcrowded settings in these poor communities and has nothing to do with the race or religion. It however, is a reflection on the government’s view of minorities and the amygdala induced bias in the majority. The other issue of this is reflected in banning religious rights on burial without heeding rights of minorities and international opinion.
Media and social media Rats (in this era of internet) who are controlling the epidemic, governments, economy, xenophobia and social life, attitudes and what not. They often have mutual understandings with politicians. Cambridge Analytica and Facebook manipulated Trump’s win in 2015. The battle between CNN and Fox was obviously manipulated by politicians! It is all over including Sri Lanka and the future of the world will be manipulated at the press of buttons as is depicted in the minions (Mindless population of yellow henchmen who are used as tools) and the despicable Felonius Gru (media) and his employer of Dr. Nefario, (politicians)
Finally, in a frenzy everyone, usually the politically powerful try to make a quick buck, from hotel quarantine to black market in masks or dhal or sardines. What is most interesting is how Donald Rumsfeld during his term as Defence Secretary served as chairman of Gilead Sciences, Inc. the developer of Tamiflu (Oseltamivir), which is used in the treatment of bird flu. His holdings in the company grew significantly when avian flu pandemic, became a subject of popular anxiety. Rumsfeld recused himself from any decisions involving Gilead. (Wikipedia) He is supposed have made a profit of 5 million USD. It is also known that another Donald (Trump) has holdings in Sanofi that produces hydroxychloroquine the drug he promoted against advice of CDC and Anthony Fauci. In Sri Lanka although not proven there are allegations against the politically connected in purchase of PCR kits? Fishing in troubled waters is a human strength!
*Vidyajothi Harendra de Silva – Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics