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Next pandemic is imminent


*After COVID-19 enters Disease X that could kill 80m persons

Scientists have warned that the next pandemic after the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that is deadlier than Ebola and could kill up to 80 million people is imminent. According to scientists, humans need to start preparing for the next pandemic, which is a case of “when not if”.

Environmentalists warn that Earth’s growing global population is putting humans closer to wildlife and at risk of new viruses. The National Geographic’s Campaign for Nature said there would be more diseases like COVID-19 due to deforestation and using wild animals as pets, food and medicine.

Researchers have shown that diseases that can move from humans to animals and back again account for over 17 per cent of all infectious diseases and cause over 700,000 deaths annually.

The number of these diseases has been increasing since the 1950s when 30 new infectious diseases first emerged and by the 1980s that had tripled. This includes animal originated diseases like Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV), Ebola, Severely Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Lassa fever and Zika.

Also, there was panic on Tuesday as another strain of virus called Hantavirus that originated from rodents (rats) claimed one life in China. Global Times, a state-run English-language newspaper, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, “A person from Yunnan Province died while on his way back to Shandong Province for work on a chartered bus on Monday. He was tested positive for Hantavirus. Other 32 people on bus were tested.”

However, contrary to some reports, the virus is not new. The World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2000, confirmed twelve suspect cases including three deaths from Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome in Las Tablas and Guarare districts, Los Santos Province, Panama.

In 1978, a causative agent Korean Haemerologic fever was isolated from small-infected field rodent near Hantan River in South Korea.The virus was named as Hantaan virus, after the name of the river Hantan. This initial discovery dates back to scientific approaches that were initiated after the Korean War (1951-1953), during which more than 3,000 cases of Korean hemorrhagic fever were reported among United Nations (UN) troops.

In 1981, a new genus termed as “hantavirus” was introduced in the Bunyaviridae family, which included the viruses that cause haemoroligic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS).
The United State’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on its website, writes that hantaviruses are a family of viruses spread mainly by rodents and can cause varied disease syndromes in people across the world.

Meanwhile, the WHO experts had in October 2018 warned that an outbreak of so-called Disease X is “on the horizon” and could kill 80 million. In September 2018, a panel led by the ex-chief of the WHO, released a stark report warning of the danger of a lethal respiratory pathogen, which they say could kill between 50 and 80 million people.

The 15 public health leaders criticised a “cycle of panic and neglect” which they say has characterised responses to health emergencies.

Since 1980, outbreaks of infectious diseases have increased from 1,000 to 3,000 in 2010.

In 2018, the WHO classified Disease X as more deadly than Ebola and Lassa fever.

According to a recent report by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, such a pandemic could wipe out between 50 and 80 million people, as well as five percent of the global economy.

The report added that as the world has become increasingly interconnected, such a pathogen could spread around the globe within 36 to 50 hours.While some governments and agencies have made efforts to prepare for disease outbreaks since the devastating 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that left over 10,000 dead, those efforts are “grossly insufficient,” the report said.

In the case of a pandemic, many national health systems – particularly in poor countries – would collapse.The WHO also warned earlier this year that another pandemic of flu – which is caused by airborne viruses – is inevitable, and said the world should prepare for it.

The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board’s report cited the 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic, which killed an estimated 50 million people.Studies have shown most of the fatalities were among those under the age of 65.

The virus is thought to have used the body’s own immune system to work against it.This caused fatal “cytokine storms” in victims – an overproduction of immune cells that can overwhelm the body- as the stronger the immune system, the more devastating the effects of the Spanish Flu on an infected person.If Disease X spawns from an influenza strain it could have a similarly devastating effect on younger populations.

Meanwhile, a marine ecologist from the campaign, Enric Sala, told The Independent UK, humans need to stop ignoring the link between infectious diseases and the natural world. By 2050 the global population is expected to rise by two billion to 9.7 billion, which will put extra pressure on food sources – putting humans closer to wildlife. Dr. Samuel Myers from the Planetary Health Alliance said human incursions into wildlife habitat bring people into closer proximity with wildlife populations.

“What we know is that other animals are an enormous reservoir of pathogens, many of which we haven’t yet been exposed to,” he told The Independent.David Quammen, an expert in infectious diseases said the ecosystem contains many different species of wild animals, plants, fungi and bacteria.He said within each of them and in the diversity in our system there are lots of unique viruses that could jump to humans as COVID-19 did.

“If we get COVID-19 under control then we need to start thinking about the next one,” said Quammen, adding that sweeping changes were needed including making the link between health and conservation.

“I’m absolutely sure that there are going to be more diseases like this in future if we continue with our practices of destroying the world,” Sala told The Independent.
COVID-19 is believed to have passed from animals to humans at a ‘wet market’ in Wuhan, China but has not been confirmed by officials.China has issued a ban on the consumption of wild animals and wildlife markets.

Researchers say new regulations are needed around the world to protect the planet as well as education on the link between damaging the environment and the rise in infectious disease.

“When we tear down tropical forests to build villages, timber and mining camps, kill or capture wild animals for food, we expose ourselves to those viruses,” Quammen told The Independent.

“It’s like if you demolish an old barn then dust flies. When you demolish a tropical forest, viruses fly. “Those moments of destruction represent opportunity for unfamiliar viruses to get into humans and take hold.”

“At the live markets in Wuhan, for example, there was an extraordinary number of exotic species alive in cages, all in proximity to each other and to humans in a way that you would never find in the natural world,” said Myers.

“It is a combination of the size of the human ecological footprint and globalisation.“Once a pathogen has made that jump from animals to humans, it has the capacity to spread around the globe very quickly with air travel.”

It is not just a problem of moving in on animal territories though; climate change and rising temperatures are creating better conditions for diseases to spread. Malaria is being found in higher latitudes and higher altitudes such as the Kenyan highlands due to rising air temperatures from climate change.

“When it comes to populations that depend on the exploitation of nature for their day-to-day living, alternatives have to be provided,” said Sala.

“Governments have a key role in setting policies that protect the nature world and regulate or ban wildlife trade. Companies can help. The world already produces enough food for 10 billion people, only we waste a third of it.”

He said there is “no sustainable human health without a healthy ecosystem” and the rise in infectious disease over the past two decades proves it.Sala said the solution is to keep wild places intact, ban the hunting and traffic of wildlife species and invest in the protection of the natural world.

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