‘A common germ pool’: The frightening origins of the coronavirus

In November 2002, a 46-year-old man from the Chinese coastal province of Guangdong developed a fever and struggled to breathe. Not much is known about him except that he was a local government official with a wife and daughter. But, as David Quammen writes in his book Spillover, a note in his medical history jumps out: He had recently helped to prepare meals that included chicken, domestic cat, and snake.

This man had one of the earliest suspected cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome, the disease that later became known as SARS. (Quammen doesn’t report whether he survived.) Like COVID-19, the pandemic currently sweeping across the globe, SARS was a coronavirus. And like COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, SARS originally came from animals.