UN report warns of 1 million viruses undiscovered in nature, half of which could infect humans

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All pandemics to date have originated from microbes carried by animals - but their emergence is entirely due to human activities, the report explains.


There are probably some 1.7 million viruses undiscovered in nature, half of which could spread to infect humans and trigger new pandemics, UN scientists have warned.

In their report, a team of 22 experts said that if action is not taken, pandemics will emerge more often, spread faster, kill more people and do more economic damage.

A “transformative change” in the way we deal with infectious diseases – shifting to a preventive stance – will be needed to escape an “era of pandemic,” they said.

COVID-19 is at least the sixth pandemic to strike since the outbreak of the “Spanish flu” in 1918, which infected a third of the world’s population and killed 20 to 50 million people.

The expert group was convened by the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, or IPBES.

There are probably some 1.7 million viruses undiscovered in nature, half of which could spread to infect humans and trigger new pandemics, UN scientists have warned.

All pandemics to date have originated from microbes carried by animals – but their emergence is entirely due to human activities, the report explains.

Almost a third of ‘zoonotic’ diseases that spread from animals emerge as a result of the loss of forests increasing the likelihood of close contact between us and wildlife.

And studies have shown that animals that thrive as a result of such destruction – like bats and rats – are also the most likely carriers of diseases of concern.

About five diseases cross the species barrier in humans each year, with the report noting that “one of them has the potential to spread and become pandemic.”

To prevent future epidemics, humanity must reduce efforts that lead to biodiversity loss, such as deforestation, animal production and the wildlife trade, experts said.

This goal – which could be achieved by taxing these high risk pandemic activities – will reduce wildlife-livestock-human contact and disease fallout.

“There is no great mystery about the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic – or any modern pandemic,” said Peter Daszak, chair of the IPBES workshop and chair of the EcoHealth Alliance, in A press release.

“The same human activities that are at the origin of climate change and the loss of biodiversity also entail the risk of a pandemic through their impacts on our environment.

“Changes in the way we use the land; the expansion and intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade, production and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and humans.

“This is the path to pandemics,” he concluded.

The report warned that simply responding to new diseases after they appear – relying on public health measures and the development of new vaccines and therapeutics – is a “slow and uncertain path”.

This could, he continued, cause both widespread human suffering, but also considerable damage to the global economy.

All pandemics to date have originated from microbes carried by animals - but their emergence is entirely due to human activities, the report explains.

All pandemics to date have originated from microbes carried by animals – but their emergence is entirely due to human activities, the report explained.

Experts calculated that the total global cost of the COVID-19 pandemic in July 2020 was around £ 5.8 to 11.6 trillion ($ 8 to 16 trillion) – which includes costs of 4 , 2-6.4 trillion pounds ($ 5.8 trillion to 8.8 trillion) due to social distancing and travel restrictions.

Past pandemics have not happened without a heavy economic toll, either. The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, for example, cost some £ 38.5 billion, while the Zika outbreaks in South America and the Caribbean cost between £ 5 billion and £ 13 billion. pounds sterling between 2015 and 2017.

Future epidemics, the IPBES report warns, have the potential to cause annual economic damage in the order of £ 0.7 trillion ($ 1 trillion).

According to experts, the cost of reducing the risk of future pandemics is expected to be about 100 times lower than the cost of responding to such crises, and thus provides “strong economic incentives for transformative change.”

To prevent epidemics, we need to reduce the drivers of biodiversity loss, such as deforestation and the wildlife trade, experts said.  This - which could be achieved by taxing activities at high risk of pandemic - will reduce human contact with wildlife and livestock and the fallout from disease.

To prevent epidemics, we need to reduce the drivers of biodiversity loss, such as deforestation and the wildlife trade, experts said.  This - which could be achieved by taxing activities at high risk of pandemic - will reduce human contact with wildlife and livestock and the fallout from disease.

To prevent epidemics, we need to reduce the drivers of biodiversity loss, such as deforestation and the wildlife trade, experts said. This – which could be achieved by taxing activities at high risk of pandemic – will reduce wildlife-livestock-human contact and disease fallout.

“The overwhelming scientific evidence leads to a very positive conclusion: we have the increasing capacity to prevent pandemics,” added Dr. Daszak.

But the way we approach them now largely ignores this capability. Our approach has indeed stagnated – we still rely on attempts to contain and control diseases after they appear, through vaccines and therapies.

“We can escape the era of pandemics, but it requires a much greater focus on prevention in addition to reaction. “

“The fact that human activity may have changed our natural environment so fundamentally does not always have to be a negative result.

“It also provides compelling evidence of our ability to drive the change needed to reduce the risk of future pandemics – while benefiting both conservation and climate change reduction.

The full findings of the report have been published on the IPBES website.

ZOONOTIC DISEASES: VIRUSES USUALLY BEGIN IN WILD ANIMALS THAT CAN MOVE TO OTHER SPECIES AND SURVIVE

Zoonotic diseases can pass from one species to another.

The infecting agent – called pathogen – in these diseases is able to cross the species border and survive.

They vary in potency and are often less dangerous in one species than in another.

To be successful, they rely on long and direct contact with different animals.

Common examples are strains of influenza that have adapted to survive in humans from different animal hosts.

H5N1, H7N9, and H5N6 are all strains of bird flu from infected birds and humans.

These cases are rare, but outbreaks occur when a person is exposed directly and for a long time to infected animals.

The influenza strain is also unable to pass from human to human once a person is infected.

An outbreak of swine flu (H1N1) in 2009 was considered a pandemic and governments spent millions to develop “tamiflu” to stop the spread of the disease.

Influenza is zoonotic because, as a virus, it can grow quickly and change shape and structure.

There are examples of other zoonotic diseases, such as chlamydia.

Chlamydia is a bacterium that has many different strains in the general family.

It is known that this occurs with certain specific strains, Chlamydia abortus for example.

This specific bacteria can cause abortion in small ruminants and, if passed to humans, can lead to abortions, premature births and life-threatening illnesses in pregnant women.

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