Coronavirus is not the last, or the worst pandemic that can arise during our lifetime. Scientists warn that there’s a possibility of many other infectious diseases related to wildlife to affect humans, sooner or later.
The more the humans excessively interfere or try to change and overrun nature, the higher the risk is of another pandemic. A research lead by a group of scientists and health experts from the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom, has developed a pattern-recognition system that has the ability to predict the wildlife infections that poses the highest risk to humans. This is a global project that carries the aim of preparing better for future disease outbreaks.
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According to Professor Matthew Baylis from the University of Liverpool, the world has faced five major threats in the past 20 years, namely: SARS, MERS, Ebola, Avian influenza and Swine flu. COVID-19, the sixth one, hit the world unexpectedly hard. He emphasized that this will not be the last pandemic that will come our way and therefore, we should pay more attention towards wildlife diseases.
To acquire this task, his team has designed a predictive pattern-recognition system that effectively probes a wide variety of known wildlife diseases. This amazing system is programmed to recognize the clues buried in the number and type of species they infect, across thousands of bacteria, parasites and viruses that are well known to science. These clues are used to identify those who pose the highest risk to humans, and subject them to research with the sole purpose of getting ready for a possible outbreak by finding preventive measures and treatments in advance.
Deforestation, encroachment of wildlife habitats are few of the human behavioral habits that determine the extent of disease transmission from animals to humans. Professor Kate Jones from University College, London, stated that evidence strongly depicts that human-transformed eco-systems like agricultural lands and plantation landscapes show less biodiversity, and that such ecosystems highly expose humans to many infectious diseases.
“That is not necessarily the reason for all the illnesses,” Jones stated. “But the types of wildlife species that tolerate human disturbance the most, such as particular rodent species, often appear to be more effective at hosting and transmitting pathogens.” She also said that as a matter of fact, loss of biodiversity gives rise to landscapes that increase risky human-wildlife contact, and increases the transmission rates of viral, bacterial and other infections.
Some outbreaks have already demonstrated the increased risk at human-wildlife interfaces.
In 1999, an outbreak of Nipah virus occurred in Malaysia, which was transmitted by fruit bats to pigs in a farm, and then to people via infected pigs. Among more than 250 farm-workers who caught the infection, more than 100 died. The present fatality rate of COVID-19 is around 1%, but that of Nipah virus was around 40% – 75%.
According to Professor Eric Fevre from University of Liverpool and the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, places like farms on forest edges, and live-animal markets are blurred animal-human boundaries with more risk for infectious diseases to emerge, so they should be closely observed to avoid a possible outbreak.
He further added that new diseases are likely to arise three or four times a year, in all continents of the world, and it’s crucial to understand and respond to them wisely.