Context: Live-animal markets (wet markets) provide a source of vertebrate and invertebrate animals for customers in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Wet markets sell live poultry, fish, reptiles, and mammals of every kind. Live-poultry markets (mostly chicken, pigeon, quail, ducks, geese, and a wide range of exotic wild-caught and farm-raised fowl) are usually separated from markets selling fish or red-meat animals, but the stalls can be near each other with no physical separation. Despite the widespread availability of affordable refrigeration, many Asian people prefer live animals for fresh produce. Wet markets are widespread in Asian countries and in countries where Asian people have migrated. Live-poultry markets were the source of the H5N1 bird-influenza virus that transmitted to and killed six of 18 people in Hong Kong.
Starting point: Yi Guan and colleagues (Science 2003; 302: 276-78) recently reported the isolation of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus (CoV) from Himalayan palm civets (Paguna larvata) in wet markets in Shenzen, southern China. These researchers also found serological evidence of infection in raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procuyoinboides). Serological evidence for SARS CoV in human beings working in these markets, taken together with the earliest cases of SARS in restaurant workers, supports the contention of a potential zoonotic origin for SARS. WHERE NEXT? Will SARS reappear? This question confronts public-health officials worldwide, particularly infectious disease personnel in those regions of the world most affected by the disease and the economic burden of SARS, including China, Taiwan, and Canada. Will the virus re-emerge from wet markets or from laboratories working with SARS CoV, or are asymptomatic infections ongoing in human beings? Similar questions can be asked about a pandemic of influenza that is probably imminent. Knowledge of the ecology of influenza in wet markets can be used as an early-warning system to detect the reappearance of SARS or pandemic influenza.