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Health Team

Experts: Reducing wildlife trade could prevent more animal-to-human virus spread

Posted March 11, 2021 11:27 a.m. EST

Researchers from Duke University on Thursday discussed transmission of diseases from wild animals to humans and what can be done to prevent future pandemics.

For months, scientists have studied bats as the origin of the novel coronavirus, among other viruses. CNN reports bats are thought to be natural hosts of the Ebola virus, rabies and SARS, which is similar to the coronavirus that first emerged in Wuhan, China.

Dr. Gregory Gray, a professor of medicine, global health and environmental health who has studied infectious diseases for 25 years across five continents, said humans haven't done so well when it comes to preparing for the many viral threats the population faces.

"We've done much better at responding, but that's not the greatest strategy to wait until something is a problem," Gray said. "Right now, we wait until a pathogen causes a lot of morbidity, and then we respond, and we've got to figure out a better way to predict these and mitigate them before they cause a lot of harm."

Stuart Pimm, a professor of conservation ecology, studies how reducing deforestation and wildlife trade could help prevent future pandemics.

"It's important not to think of this as being some exceptional event that's happened just once and won't happen again for 100 years," said Pimm. "Two or three major viruses spill into the human population each year. Thirty years ago, there was HIV, which killed at least 10 million people around the world. In all cases, it's a consequence of our human actions imposing upon the natural world. In the case of HIV, it was cutting down forests in West Africa and people getting bloodied from butchering chimpanzees. In this case (coronavirus), it's by contact with bats or some other related species."

Pimm said, going forward, there are cost-effective steps the government can take to reduce zoonotic viruses, or those transmitted from animals to humans, like limiting wildlife trade and limiting the number of species used for meat.

According to Gray, animals that live in very high densities are common spreaders of disease, including bats, rodents and monkeys, which are consumed around the world.

Gray added that "we are amazingly careless in moving species around the world," and "we have almost no screening when people transport species across national boundaries."

"That would be a very prudent investment of our of our research effort and of our energy to try and slow these things down," he said.

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