A total of 67,600 cases have been reported worldwide, with roughly 25,500 of those occurring in the United States. Even if the number of COVID-19 cases has decreased, a global pandemic still exists.
Scientists predict that as factors including the destruction of animal habitats and human expansion into previously deserted places accelerate, zoonotic diseases—viruses that may be transmitted between animals and humans—will become increasingly widespread.
Humans and Animals Are Interacting More
The earliest documented case of monkeypox in a human was in 1970, and the earliest in a monkey was in 1958, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As a result of factors including deforestation, population increase, and animal breeding, once-isolated populations of humans and wild animals are now frequently in close proximity to one another.
Nearly a billion acres of forest have been cleared since 1990. A United Nations analysis found that annual deforestation rates have been declining, with an average of 25 million acres being removed each year from 2015 to 2020, down from roughly 40 million per year in the 1990s.
When forests are cut down, not only does it have an effect on the climate, but it also causes animals to seek out new homes in increasingly close proximity to humans. According to Lanre Williams-Ayedun, senior vice president of international programs at World Relief, a sustainability nonprofit organization, “you’re just seeing the effects of the change in the environment, the change in animal behavior, the change in human behavior, bringing wild animals and humans more into contact where they can have more contamination.”
According to Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum, vice chair for clinical research in internal medicine at the University of Cincinnati, these shifting patterns in animal migration and reproduction can affect how diseases behave in their natural host, perhaps making them more contagious.
He explained that “the germ adapts to the new species when it gets the opportunity to do this several times, depending on the particular germ.”
According to research conducted by the United Nations, roughly sixty percent of all human infectious diseases and seventy-five percent of all developing infectious diseases are zoonotic or transmitted from animals to humans. Ebola, Zika, and COVID-19 are just a few that researchers think may have spread through bats.
Could the Current Monkeypox Outbreak Have Been Predicted?
Some African nations regularly experience outbreaks of monkeypox. However, unlike several other viruses, monkeypox has the potential to “self-limit,” meaning that it is not as contagious. Williams-Ayedun remarked, “It wasn’t anything you would have expected would become such a major pandemic.”
In some areas, the smallpox vaccination was used to practically wipe out the monkeypox virus. Williams-Ayedun noted a significant decline in vaccination rates among adults younger than 40.
These days, people also travel further and more frequently. “We’ve seen that something that happens in what we think is a faraway region of the world somewhere can very simply become a concern where we live,” she said, referencing the ease with which viruses can move throughout the world.
Assistant professor of Virginia Tech’s fish and wildlife Luis Escobar said that while researchers have been able to predict where small outbreaks of monkeypox are more likely to occur – poorer regions, areas with war or social conflict, or remote places – it is in those places where data is less accessible.
The data may be insufficient, in his opinion. We may not have had enough information to foresee a pandemic of this scale. He continued by saying that researchers need to look for zoonotic diseases “everywhere” since “we don’t know which [area] is going to trigger the next pandemic.”
As Fichtenbaum points out, there are hundreds of microbes in the ecosphere, making it difficult to predict which ones may cause a global pandemic. To claim, “Well, I can predict that this germ is going to be the next great germ,” he continued, “would be really fraudulent.” Like our ability to forecast earthquakes, I don’t think we’re particularly good at predicting whether or not a certain event will occur.
The Spread of Zoonotic Diseases Will Likely Become More Frequent
According to Escobar, researchers working to stop the spread of the disease have ignored historical facts in favor of focusing on the future.
He explained his studies by saying, “I do it in part to anticipate the future.” “But we’re making serious attempts to piece together what happened in the past. By looking at the history of wildlife diseases, climate, and forest legislation throughout the past century, we can better comprehend current events.”
As a group, he and his colleagues have utilized these simulations to make predictions about future trends, looking out 50 to 100 years. However, zoonotic illnesses may not require so much time.
According to Escobar’s findings, bat-transmitted diseases could see a dramatic uptick in the next 12–20 years. As Latin America warms, bat populations will shift and fewer bats will live in the northern parts of the continent, he added, which might have repercussions for the southern United States.
In addition, animal-only diseases may provide insight into the future of human civilization. A widespread fish virus, for instance, may wreak havoc on aquaculture as the effects of climate change become more severe, threatening both food security and economic growth, as explained by Escobar.
What Can Be Done About It?
Fichtenbaum argues that government policy must eventually deal with the problem of zoonotic disease transmission. “The most common reactions to climate change are, “Well, this is horrible for the environment, and we’re going to see floods and we’re going to have heat waves, and this may threaten economic survival,” and I think that’s where the conversation has to be right now.
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The costs of human illness and poor health are often overlooked.” Ayedun-Williams noted that in recent years several zoonoses researchers have been advocating for a “one health” strategy, which would involve the integration of public health, veterinary health, and environmental health.
Scarcity can lead to hunting wild animals or cutting down trees for housing, which in turn drives zoonotic infections, so it’s crucial to help people get jobs, safe shelter, and food, she said.