Covid not a 'once in a century event'
COVID-19 is being referred to as a “once in a century event” – but the next pandemic is likely to hit sooner than you think.
In the next few decades, we will likely see other pandemics. We can predict that with reasonable confidence because of the recent increased frequency of major epidemics (such as SARS and Ebola), and because of social and environmental changes driven by humans that may have contributed to COVID-19’s emergence.
Another pandemic is coming — it’s time to prepare
TribLive says even as we confront a still-surging covid-19 pandemic in advance of global vaccination, another looming pandemic threatens us.
This threat comes from rising numbers of drug-resistant bacteria and fungi. These “superbugs” are immune to most antibiotics. They already kill 700,000 people around the world each year. And they’re evolving faster than we are developing new treatments. One report warns that these infections could kill more than 10 million people worldwide each year by 2050, unless scientists invent more powerful antibiotics.
A superbug pandemic could prove even more devastating than covid-19 — in terms of medical care interrupted and too many lives lost. The rise in treatment-resistant infections makes surgeries, as well as chemotherapy and immunotherapy, much riskier since superbugs abound in hospitals and prey on patients with weakened and suppressed immune systems.
Given the severity of the threat, it would seem that drug companies would spare no expense to find new treatments. After all, they have heroically moved heaven and earth to develop vaccines and therapeutics for covid-19.
Yet very few drug firms are investing in superbug treatments, largely because the antibiotics market is much different than the market for other drugs.
The world will face a deadly new pandemic relatively soon, one that is fueled by a superbug that may already exist. Will we be prepared to fight and defeat it? That depends entirely on whether our leaders take the growing threat of superbugs seriously.
WHO warns Covid-19 pandemic is 'not necessarily the big one'
The Guardian says WHO experts have warned that even though the coronavirus pandemic has been very severe, it is “not necessarily the big one.”
The “destiny” of the virus is to become endemic, even as vaccines begin to be rolled out in the US and UK, says Professor David Heymann, the chair of the WHO’s strategic and technical advisory group for infectious hazards.
“The world has hoped for herd immunity, that somehow transmission would be decreased if enough persons were immune,” he said.
But Heymann, who is also an epidemiologist said the concept of herd immunity was misunderstood.
“It appears the destiny of SARS-CoV-2 [Covid-19] is to become endemic, as have four other human coronaviruses, and that it will continue to mutate as it reproduces in human cells, especially in areas of more intense admission.
“Fortunately, we have tools to save lives, and these in combination with good public health will permit us to learn to live with Covid-19.”
The head of the WHO emergencies program, Dr Mike Ryan, said: “The likely scenario is the virus will become another endemic virus that will remain somewhat of a threat, but a very low-level threat in the context of an effective global vaccination program.
“It remains to be seen how well the vaccines are taken up, how close we get to a coverage level that might allow us the opportunity to go for elimination,” he said. “The existence of a vaccine, even at high efficacy, is no guarantee of eliminating or eradicating an infectious disease. That is a very high bar for us to be able to get over.”
Ryan warned that the next pandemic may be more severe.
“This pandemic has been very severe … it has affected every corner of this planet. But this is not necessarily the big one,” he said.
“This is a wake-up call. We are learning, now, how to do things better: science, logistics, training and governance, how to communicate better. But the planet is fragile.
“We live in an increasingly complex global society. These threats will continue. If there is one thing we need to take from this pandemic, with all of the tragedy and loss, is we need to get our act together. We need to honour those we’ve lost by getting better at what we do every day.”
The next pandemic: where is it coming from and how do we stop it?
FT News says Yanthe Nobel, a vet and PhD student in epidemiology, has come to Dzanga-Sangha to study viruses, mainly in bats and rodents. If the cause of death isn’t obvious, and none of the usual pathogens shows up in the field lab, the samples are sent on to a bigger lab in Germany. “You always look for something new,” she says. In the bigger lab, the samples are tested for unknown viruses — pathogens that have not been seen before.
Hunting for new viruses has become more difficult during an actual pandemic, but it has never been more important. Covid-19 has brought some of the most powerful countries in the world to their knees. Like most other novel human viruses, Sars-Cov-2, which causes Covid-19, is zoonotic: it crossed from animals into humans. In this case, probably from a bat to a person, or through an intermediary animal.
“As a veterinarian, I am already trained to see the danger of spillovers from animals to people,” says Nobel, who studies at the Robert Koch Institute’s Leendertz Lab, which specialises in the ecology of zoonotic disease. Covid-19 has put this in the spotlight, she adds. “People are waking up to a story that was already there.”
For years, epidemiologists and the WHO planned for the advent of an unknown illness — often referred to as “Disease X”. It would be highly contagious, not previously identified and cause a major international epidemic.
In other words: a lot like Covid-19. But even though everyone knew something like this might come along, no one found it until the virus had already infected dozens of people in Wuhan, China.
Zoonotic viruses are responsible for a long list of illnesses: HIV, Ebola, Sars, Zika and swine flu, to name just a few. And more are emerging all the time — each year, between two and five new zoonotic viruses are discovered. This year alone has seen several zoonotic outbreaks in addition to Covid-19. There was an Ebola surge in the Democratic Republic of Congo — where the disease has claimed thousands of lives — and a spike in Lassa fever cases in Nigeria. Over the past three decades, outbreaks of zoonotic disease have increased.
The diseases don’t emerge from just anywhere. Often they come from rainforest edges and places of great diversity, where humans and animal species are mingling. These “hotspots”, where diseases are more likely to spill over from animals to humans, are closely linked to environmental change such as deforestation.
Tropical rainforests are exceptionally important in this regard,” says Tom Gillespie, who leads a lab studying pathogens and environmental change at Emory University.
“Here you have a diversity of bats, rodents, primates — the species where we are most likely to contract something — [so] you are going to have a diversity of pathogens as well.”
This year, Covid-19 has made things even harder for researchers. Though there have not yet been any cases in this corner of the Central African Republic, the local lab is equipped to run PCR tests for the virus, and researchers are taking extra precautions, including wearing masks around the great apes, who could be at risk of catching Covid-19 from humans.
This is one of the most remote forests of Africa, but the research is central to understanding our changing relationship to nature and disease. Climate change adds complexity to this task, as insects shift their ranges and plants bear fruit at different times, creating more potential for new species to mix. But if we knew more about viruses — how they act and which animals they infect — could it equip us better the next time a “Disease X” comes around?
This is not the last pandemic
BBC News says we have created “a perfect storm” for diseases from wildlife to spill over into humans and spread quickly around the world, scientists warn.
Human encroachment on the natural world speeds up that process.
This outlook comes from global health experts who study how and where new diseases emerge.
As part of that effort, they have now developed a pattern-recognition system to predict which wildlife diseases pose most risk to humans.
This approach is led by scientists at the University of Liverpool, UK, but it is part of a global effort to develop ways to prepare better for future outbreaks.
In the last 20 years, we’ve had six significant threats – SARS, MERS, Ebola, avian influenza and swine flu,” Prof Matthew Baylis from the University of Liverpool told BBC News.
“We dodged five bullets but the sixth got us.
“And this is not the last pandemic we are going to face, so we need to be looking more closely at wildlife disease.”
Many scientists agree that our behaviour – particularly deforestation and our encroachment on diverse wildlife habitats – is helping diseases to spread from animals into humans more frequently.
According to Prof Kate Jones from University College London, evidence “broadly suggests that human-transformed ecosystems with lower biodiversity, such as agricultural or plantation landscapes, are often associated with increased human risk of many infections”.
“That’s not necessarily the case for all diseases,” she added. “But the kinds of wildlife species that are most tolerant of human disturbance, such as certain rodent species, often appear to be more effective at hosting and transmitting pathogens.
“So biodiversity loss can create landscapes that increase risky human-wildlife contact and increase the chances of certain viruses, bacteria and parasites spilling over into people.”
Farms on the edge of forests, markets where animals are bought and sold – all are blurred boundaries between humans and wildlife, and places where diseases are more likely to emerge.
“New diseases pop-up in the human population probably three to four times per year,” Prof Fevre said. “It’s not just in Asia or Africa, but in Europe and the US as well.”
Matthew Baylis added that this ongoing surveillance for new disease is increasingly important. “We’ve created almost a perfect storm here for the emergence of pandemics,” he told BBC News.
Prof Fevre agreed. “This kind of event is likely to happen again and again,” he said.
“It’s been happening all throughout our interaction with the natural world. What’s important now is how we understand it and respond to it.
The current crisis, Prof Fevre said, provides a lesson for many of us about the consequence of our own impact on the natural world.
Go Deeper into the story
How the pandemic might play out in 2021 and beyond – nature
10 infectious diseases that could be the next pandemic – Gavi
Another pandemic-causing ‘Disease X’ could be around the corner, scientist warns – Evening Standard
How Covid-19 mutations are changing the pandemic – BBC Future
Another pandemic could follow coronavirus, UK expert warns – Arab News
Heading Off the Next Pandemic – KHN
Bill Gates: 3 innovations that will help America get ahead of the next pandemic – CNBC
Where Year Two of the Pandemic Will Take Us – The Atlantic
We are likely to see two to three major pandemics start in regions with limited public healthcare and rapidly spread globally and so demand fast response.
list of pandemics
An epidemic is the rapid spread of disease to a large number of people in a given population within a short period of time. For example, in meningococcal infections, an attack rate in excess of 15 cases per 100,000 people for two consecutive weeks is considered an epidemic
Due to the large time spans, the first plague pandemic (6th century–8th century) and the second plague pandemic (14th century–early 19th century) are shown by individual outbreaks, such as the Plague of Justinian (first pandemic) and the Black Death (second pandemic).