New disease originating in Asia spreading through Germany – similarities with coronavirus

A new pathogen has emerged in the Ruhr district of Germany, a highly populated urban area in North Rhine-Westphalia. The disease, which has similarities to the coronavirus, is understood to have originated from Asia and threatens certain animal species. But there is currently no danger to humans.

The new pathogen is the deadly skin fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, more commonly known as Bsal, according to German Press Agency DPA.

The fungus is particularly dangerous for fire salamanders, the amphibian known for their black bodies with bright yellow markings, and crested newts – which is a protected species in Germany.

The pathogen is currently spreading rapidly in parts of the Ruhr area, with experts dubbing it the “salamander plague”.

They fear it could completely wipe out affected species.

Bsal is believed to have entered Europe via the importation of Asian salamanders.

Dortmund animal welfare expert Hans-Dieter Otterbein, from the nature conservation organisation Agard, said it is highly likely the skin fungus originated from Asia, but the exact region is not yet known.

The dangerous pathogen has already spread across parts of Germany, first appearing in the northern mountain range of Eifel, before spreading to Ruhr.

The skin fungus has already caused a sharp decline in the population of fire salamanders in both regions.

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The expert also made a striking connection to the coronavirus, which is currently sweeping across the globe and causing thousands of deaths.

Mr Otterbein has noticed that the skin fungus appears most prominently in more densely populated areas, where many people come together.

As a result, he calls for the chain of infection to broken as soon as possible – much like for the coronavirus pandemic.

But he notes the difference between the two diseases is that COVID-19 is a virus, whereas Bsal infects, with fungal spores.

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These fungal spores are mostly found in the soil of forests and would be carried on, for example, by mud on shoes or bicycles.

The contaminated mud is then transferred to another area, where the fungus can then germinate and spread further.

As a result, the expert calls on hikers, cyclists, anglers, foresters and hunters – or anyone else walking through rural areas, to disinfect their shoes and equipment if they come into contact with the forest floor.

He also advises dog walkers to keep their pets on leashes, as the spores can also be spread by dogs running through the forest.

Mr Otterbein said the pathogen is a serious threat to the survival of European tail amphibians.

He said Bsal was first detected in Essen in 2018, then in Bochum, Witten and, since the end of 2019, on some fire salamanders in forests in Dortmund.

Populations of fire salamanders in the urban region of Aachen have already been wiped out.

The animal protection expert added: “It must be assumed that the fire salamanders often die unnoticed by us, for example during winter, and therefore a decline caused by Bsal happened undetected.”

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg

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