Reducing the possibility of New Pandemics

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A new article on ScienceNews.org, written by Brianna Randall, highlights a recent report published in Nature Communications that outlines strategies to reduce the transmission of viruses between animals and humans by preserving ecosystems. The report emphasizes protecting or restoring natural habitats where animals live and minimizing human-wildlife interactions in developed areas. It explains how outbreaks of novel infectious diseases, such as COVID-19 and HIV, often occur when a virus jumps from animals to humans, a phenomenon known as zoonotic spillover.
 
Drawing from case studies of zoonotic spillover from bats, the report proposes ecological measures to mitigate such events. For instance, in areas like subtropical eastern Australia, where the Hendra virus has caused fatalities, researchers suggest replanting specific species of trees to discourage bats from seeking food in urban gardens or agricultural zones. Additionally, community engagement in preventing forest fires and providing alternative protein sources in regions like Nigeria, where bats are studied, is recommended.

The report underscores that protecting ecosystems not only reduces the risk of spillover events but also safeguards animals from contracting viruses from humans. It notes that viruses are more likely to jump from humans to animals than the other way around. The importance of studying zoonotic spillovers proactively, rather than reactively, is emphasized, with a call for investments in conservation efforts alongside biomedical and epidemiological technologies.

A significant recommendation from the report is to reduce the construction of roads into wild areas, as roads facilitate habitat destruction, increase human access to wildlife, and expedite the spread of viruses. The article suggests that policy makers and public health officials should prioritize understanding and preventing zoonotic spillovers to avoid future epidemics and pandemics, treating each spillover event as an opportunity to learn and implement preventive measures.

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