Focusing solely on the wildlife trade, farms and large markets where animals are gathered to be bought or sold is also not enough, experts say; instead, we should turn our attention to all the places where people and animals come into close contact, especially as the climate changes and land use transforms around the world. As humans continue to reshape the planet with our actions, forcing animals to flee their habitats and encroach on their homes, we are creating more and more opportunities for previously unknown viruses to spread to humans.
“Most of these emerging viruses are zoonotic viruses – they come from other animals,” Rasmussen said. “Animals in general and our interactions with them are a potential source for the spread of new or emerging or re-emerging viruses… If animal ecosystems are disrupted, they will start to move and potentially behave in different ways because they have to find new sources of food or new sources of water.
Carefully monitoring the emergence of new diseases in animals and humans is a key pillar in stopping epidemics at their source. This means that national governments must invest in genomic sequencing and surveillance programs, and they must share data from these programs with other countries. SARS-CoV-2 was identified relatively quickly in China due to concerns after the initial SARS outbreak led to increased disease surveillance and viral discovery. Yet in many places these surveillance efforts — both for new diseases and existing ones like Covid — are “clearly insufficient,” Rasmussen said. “I don’t think we have a good understanding of which animals this virus is circulating in, and we certainly don’t have a good overall understanding of which species are at the highest risk, really, for any virus.”
Improving human health is another key element in preventing the next big zoonotic crisis. Providing better health care for those most at risk of coming into contact with pathogens – think poultry farm workers, wildlife hunters, farmers and loggers clearing forests – can improve health outcomes. early warning signals about cross-viruses. “You really need more comprehensive wildlife monitoring efforts, but you also need to try to link that to sightings and unexplained human diseases that are going to pop up,” Rasmussen said. “Human and animal health are inextricably linked.”