The outbreaks of both the Wuhan coronavirus and SARS started in Chinese wet markets. Photos show what the markets look like.
- A coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, has killed 17 people and infected more than 544.
- The Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan is thought to be the starting point for the virus outbreak. It was shuttered on January 1.
- At wet markets, meat is sold alongside live animals like dogs, hares, and civets.
- On Wednesday, Wuhan authorities banned the trade of live animals at wet markets to lower the risk of a disease outbreak.
- Here's what these markets look like.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
The coronavirus spreading in China and the SARS outbreak of 2003 have two things in common: Both are from the coronavirus family, and both started in wet markets.
At such markets, outdoor stalls are squeezed together to forming narrow lanes, where locals and visitors shop for cuts of meat and ripe produce. A stall selling hundreds of caged chickens may abut a butcher counter, where uncooked meat is chopped as nearby dogs watch hungrily. Vendors hock skinned hares, while seafood stalls display glistening fish and shrimp.
Wet markets put people and live and dead animals - dogs, chickens, pigs, snakes, civets, and more - in constant, close contact. That makes it easy for a virus to jump from animal to human.
On Wednesday, authorities in Wuhan, China - where the current outbreak started - banned the trade of live animals at wet markets. The specific market where the outbreak began, the Huanan Seafood Market, was shuttered on January 1. The coronavirus that emerged there has so far killed 17 people and infected nearly 550.
"When you bring animals together in these unnatural situations, you have the risk of human diseases emerging," Kevin Olival, a disease ecologist and conservationist at the EcoHealth Alliance, told National Geographic. "If the animals are housed in bad conditions under a lot of stress, it might create a better opportunity for them to shed virus and to be sick."
Coronaviruses are zoonotic diseases, meaning they first spread to people from animals. In the case of SARS, and likely this Wuhan coronavirus outbreak as well, bats were the original hosts. The bats then infected other animals, which transmitted the virus to humans.
Here's what Chinese wet markets look like.
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The Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan closed January 1, after it was found to be the most likely starting point for the outbreak of this coronavirus, also called 2019-nCov.
Reports indicate that before the Huanan market closed, vendors there sold processed meats and live consumable animals including chickens, donkeys, sheep, pigs, camels, foxes, badgers, bamboo rats, and hedgehogs, as well as reptiles like snakes.
On Wednesday, Wuhan authorities banned the trade of live animals at wet markets.
This type of intervention could help stop to spread of zoonotic viruses like the Wuhan coronavirus.
The close proximity of shoppers to stall vendors and live and dead animals in wet markets make them prime breeding grounds for zoonotic diseases.
In the case of SARS, humans caught the virus from weasel-like mammals called masked palm civets.
Researchers figured out that SARS originally came from a population of bats in China's Yunnan province.
Experts haven't yet identified the animal species that enabled the Wuhan coronavirus to spread to people.
According to a group of scientists who edit the Journal of Medical Virology, the culprit in this case could be the Chinese cobra.
The H7N9 and H5N9 bird flus — also zoonotic viruses — were likely transmitted to humans in wet markets, too.
Bats and birds are considered reservoir species for viruses with pandemic potential, according to Bart Haagmans, a virologist at the the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
"There have been plenty of eminent epidemiologists predicting 'pandemic X' for a number of years now," Adrian Hyzler, the chief medical officer at Healix International, told Business Insider.
The Wuhan coronavirus outbreak isn't currently considered a pandemic, however.
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