Zoonotic diseases – links between pandemics and state of nature

Photo by Ed van duijn on Unsplash

In January I asked what would you be interested in reading about, and one suggestion was connections between how we treat nature and the environment, and pandemics. As a starter, a brief intro to zoonotic diseases.

What are zoonotic diseases?

A zoonotic disease is a disease that jumps from animals to humans. These jumps are known as spillovers. Three out of four new diseases are zoonotic. 60% of known infectious diseases and 75% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. Covid, Ebola, SARS, MERS, and Zika are examples.

Three out of four new diseases are zoonotic.

What causes zoonotic diseases?

Experts from the UN and the European Food Safety Authority have identified industrial animal farming as the cause of most new infectious diseases in humans in the past decade.

Reasons for this are increasingly closer contacts between wildlife, domestic animals, and humans; unhealthy farming practises involving overuse of antibiotics, high numbers of animals, and low genetic diversity. When animals are stressed that reduces their immune system and makes them even more susceptible to diseases.

Forest losses are a major factor, pressing people and animals closer together. Also, the sale and trade of high-risk and illegal wildlife creates conditions for diseases jumping from animals to humans.

How high is a risk for another pandemic?

Covid-19 will have made us better prepared to respond to future pandemics, but at the same time, demand for more cheap meat that drives land conversion and unhealthy farming practises is increasing the risk of new diseases. And, the next pandemic could be more lethal, if we see a virus like the bird flu virus, H5N1, which has a mortality rate of 60-65 per cent, develop human-to-human transmission. A scary thought.

What can we do?

For us end consumers, quoting Prof Aliza le Roux, assistant dean of natural and agricultural sciences and associate professor of zoology at the University of the Free State:

“If we could see eating meat as a ‘treat’ and not a daily ‘right’, we can reduce pressure on the environment and reduce the speed at which another zoonotic virus can evolve.”

Reduced meat consumption that would result in reduced forest losses would also help with biodiversity and climate crises. So let’s get creative with our cooking!

Image by Werner Heiber from Pixaby







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.