Nobody knows conclusively from which animal the novel coronavirus jumped into humans, but what we do know is that transmission is now from human to human. Nowhere in official reports has there been mention of chicken.
Bats may well have been the species of origin, but this has yet to be proved definitively, and scientists are cautious about drawing conclusions. To date, nobody knows for sure where the virus came from. What we do know, however, is that transmission is no longer from animals.
When concrete answers are hard to come by all, however, too often rumors tend to fill the void, and this is what appears to have happened in India and Pakistan where the finger has now been pointed at poultry.
Perils of social media
Posts on social media warning that the COVID-19 virus could be caught from eating chicken have resulted in a dramatic downturn in chicken consumption in the two countries.
According to The Economic Times, a business newspaper, poultry companies in the country have reported that sales of chicken and eggs have halved over recent weeks, driven down by rumors about the novel coronavirus. Consumption of broilers is reported to have fallen by 50% while prices are reported to have dropped by 70%.
There are similarly reports that farmers are cutting back on production and culling stock.
The Indian Express has reported that the Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying has reassured that the predominant route of the virus was human to human and that poultry had not been implicated in transmission.
This communication, or something similar, certainly appears to be circulating on social media along with a number of images purportedly from official sources stating that chicken is safe to eat. A similar letter is communicating from the Indian Veterinary Association stating that chicken is safe to eat.
Other posts are now extolling the virtues of eating chicken while one denies there is virus, and calls on social media users to eat chicken and not kill farmers!
Plenty of lessons will have been learned at the center of the outbreak China and, no doubt, more will be learned as the virus spreads. What should have been learned, however, a long time ago is that scare-mongering rarely does any good and, in this particular case, may be depriving consumers of good nutrition precisely at a time when they may need it most, and producers of their livelihood.