According to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the probability of a catastrophic infectious disease epidemic, comparable to the COVID-19 pandemic, might triple in the ensuing decades.
An individual has a 38% lifetime probability of experiencing a pandemic like COVID-19, a probability that may double in the coming years.
According to William Pan, PhD, one of the study’s authors and associate professor of global environmental health at Duke University, the likelihood of a new pandemic is “going to undoubtedly grow because of all of the environmental changes that are occurring,” he told ABC News.
To determine the likelihood of extreme epidemics occurring each year, Pan and colleagues examined data from the previous 400 years. They examined mortality rates, the duration of earlier epidemics, and the frequency of emerging infectious diseases.
The likelihood of an extreme epidemic can be determined, the researchers stated, despite the fact that the frequency of epidemics varies greatly throughout time. According to recent predictions, zoonotic diseases—also known as infectious diseases spread from animals to humans—are growing more prevalent as a result of climate change.
Animals are frequently repositories for infectious bacteria and viruses in zoonotic diseases like COVID-19. Therefore, humans may contract a virus or bacteria from them that can mutate and evolve, infecting them directly or indirectly through surfaces, soil, or water.
According to Pan, when the gap between humans and the natural world closes, we simply come into contact with those things more frequently. The ability of viruses to infect us more readily is enhanced by the climate.
Another illustration of this, in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, is the recent recurrence of Ebola outbreaks in West Africa, including this year.
There is proof that West African forests are being lost to make way for palm oil. According to Aaron Bernstein, MD, director of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, there is a whole story about the palm oil industry destroying tropical forests to plant palm oil trees.
He explained, “In this instance, bats reside in those forests, but they cannot live in palm oil plantations. And as a result, those bats relocated to a region of West Africa where they spread the Ebola virus to people.
According to the CDC, zoonotic diseases currently make up 60% of all illnesses and 75% of developing diseases. Although anybody can contract a zoonotic disease, those with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, persons over the age of 65, children under the age of 5, and adults over the age of 65 are those most at risk.
According to ABC News, as additional infectious diseases appear, researchers and public health specialists are rushing to create diagnostic tools, curative medications, and vaccines—often after infection rates have already spiralled out of control. However, very little is done to stop these epidemics from happening in the first place.
After waiting for diseases to manifest before attempting to find solutions, Bernstein remarked, “We can’t deal with pandemics with Band-Aids.”
According to Pan, nations must make investments in surveillance systems and exchange knowledge about the early indications of probable viral infections in order to stop another large pandemic from causing social unrest.
In certain parts of the world, he continued, “we don’t even have the rudimentary ability to examine or test strains, viral fevers coming into hospitals.” And as a result, many of those issues go unresolved until it’s too late.
Additionally, global budgets frequently favour disease treatment over root-cause prevention.
“In order to address spillover, habitat protection is necessary. We must address climate change, according to Bernstein. Because many viruses spread from wild animals to cattle and eventually to people, we need to address the risk of large-scale livestock production.