The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has come under fire after using an image of an 18th-century Chinese military badge that featured bats on the May 2020 cover of its Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) journal.
The agency announced the cover in a now-deleted Instagram post, which noted that animals featured on such badges can serve as zoonotic reservoirs “capable of transmitting viral pathogens that can cause respiratory infections in humans.”
The badge in question represented a military rank in the Qing Dynasty, according to the CDC. Primarily, it featured a leopard standing amidst flowering plants and fruit trees, symbolizing power.
Interestingly, the background also included a few “swooping bats,” which the CDC described as indicating “good fortune.” Later in its description, however, the agency noted the animals as being reservoirs for Hendra and Nipah viruses, as well as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV).
In its website, the CDC confirms bats as the origin of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the pathogen responsible for COVID-19. The agency also notes that the sequences from American patients are similar to the one that China initially posted, “suggesting a likely single, recent emergence of this virus from an animal reservoir.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic is caused by SARS-CoV-2,” the CDC wrote in its now-defunct Instagram post. “One’s rank or status offers no protection from human-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and other viral respiratory illnesses.”
While the CDC reports bats as the source of SARS-CoV-2, it remains unclear how humans acquired it from the winged mammals. This gap in the infection chain gave rise to speculations that it could have been through their consumption, amplified by an old video of a Chinese woman eating bat soup.
Such unfounded claims have since fueled racist and xenophobic attacks not only against Chinese people but all others of Asian descent. Allegedly, this is made worse by the Trump administration’s continued reference to SARS-CoV-2 as the “Chinese virus.”
can we talk abt this? this is unacceptable. even if it was meant as a joke or not. this isn’t something to joke abt. their @ on tik tok is @ thesilasjames pic.twitter.com/cZWvvuLTVx
— elaine ✿ (@keyingcars) April 18, 2020
In March, CDC Director Robert Redfield agreed that it is wrong and inappropriate to call SARS-CoV-2 the “Chinese coronavirus.” But the fact the agency continues to link Chinese culture with the virus — on no less than a journal cover — could send mixed messages.
As of this writing, the cover remains in the EID journal’s May 2020 issue. Critics slammed the CDC for supposedly perpetuating the problematic message.
Feature Image via @cdcgov