In Age of Epidemics, Experts Warn of Other Animal Disease Threats

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Around 60% of all known human infections are zoonotic, according to UNEP. (Queue)

Paris, France:

With the spread of monkeypox across the world hot on the heels of Covid, there are fears that increasing disease outbreaks that jump from animals to humans could trigger another pandemic.

Although these diseases – called zoonoses – have been around for millennia, they have become more common in recent decades due to deforestation, mass livestock farming, climate change and other climate-induced upheavals in the animal world. man, according to experts.

Other diseases that pass from animals to humans include HIV, Ebola, Zika, SARS, MERS, bird flu and bubonic plague.

The World Health Organization said on Thursday it was still investigating the origins of Covid, but “the strongest evidence still relates to zoonotic transmission”.

And with more than 1,000 cases of monkeypox recorded worldwide in the past month, the UN agency has warned there is a “real” risk the disease could become established in dozens of countries.

WHO emergency director Michael Ryan said last week that “it’s not just monkeypox” – the way humans and animals interact has become “unstable”.

“The number of times these diseases are transmitted to humans increases, and then our ability to amplify this disease and spread it within our communities increases,” he said.

Monkeypox has not recently jumped to humans – the first human case was identified in DR Congo in 1970 and it has since been confined to parts of central and western Africa.

Despite its name, “the latest outbreak of monkeypox has nothing to do with monkeys,” said Olivier Restif, an epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge.

Although first discovered in macaques, “zoonotic transmission is most often from rodents and outbreaks spread through person-to-person contact,” he told AFP.

The worst to come?

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, approximately 60% of all known human infections are zoonotic, as are 75% of all new and emerging infectious diseases.

Restif said the number of zoonotic pathogens and disease outbreaks has increased in recent decades due to “population growth, livestock growth and encroachment on wildlife habitats.”

“Wild animals have drastically changed their behaviors in response to human activities, migrating from their impoverished habitats,” he said.

“Animals with weakened immune systems hanging around near people and pets is a sure way to get more pathogen transmission.”

Benjamin Roche, a zoonosis specialist at the French Institute of Research for Development, said deforestation has had a major effect.

“Deforestation reduces biodiversity: we lose animals that naturally regulate viruses, which allows them to spread more easily,” he explains to AFP.

And the worst may be yet to come, with a major study published earlier this year warning that climate change is increasing the risk of another pandemic.

As the animals flee their warming natural habitats, they will encounter other species for the first time, potentially infecting them with some of the 10,000 zoonotic viruses believed to be “silently circulating” among wild mammals, mostly in rainforests, according to the study.

Greg Albery, disease ecologist at Georgetown University and co-author of the study, told AFP that “the host-pathogen network is about to change dramatically.”

“We have to be ready”

“We need improved surveillance in both urban and wild animals so that we can identify when a pathogen has jumped from one species to another – and whether the receiving host is urban or near humans. , we should be particularly concerned,” he said. said.

Eric Fevre, an infectious disease specialist at Britain’s University of Liverpool and the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya, said “a whole range of potentially dangerous new diseases could emerge – we need to be ready”.

These include “focusing on the public health of populations” in remote environments and “better studying the ecology of these natural spaces to understand how different species interact”.

Restif said there was “no silver bullet – our best bet is to act at all levels to reduce the risk”.

“We need huge investments in the provision of frontline healthcare and testing capacity for disadvantaged communities around the world, so that outbreaks can be detected, identified and controlled without delay,” he said. he declares.

On Thursday, a WHO scientific advisory group released a preliminary report outlining what needs to be done when a new zoonotic pathogen emerges.

It lists a series of early investigations into how and where the pathogen jumped to humans, determining the potential risk, as well as longer-term environmental impacts.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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