Coronavirus, the biggest global pandemic of the century, is not the only virus which has infected the world and taken down millions of lives. The world has fallen victim to Ebola, Yellow fever, Zika virus, Nipa virus, MERS (CoV), scarlet fever, SARS, Enterovirus 68 and many more. Today, we have more viruses and diseases than ever before. According to a research paper, “Deposition rates of viruses and bacteria above the atmospheric boundary layer”, published in 2018, there are about 800 million viruses on every square meter of the planet. But not all viruses cause pandemics. Well, not all viruses even enter the human lives.
According to scientists, wet forests are the breeding grounds for most of the viruses in the world as the region is rich in terms of biodiversity. Rodents, mammals and bats are the maximum carriers of viruses but the most dangerous of all are bats as they have a strange ability to carry a lot of viruses, in their saliva, urine, and faeces. And they can easily spread these virus as they can fly to different places.
Dr. Kevin Olival, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist, who has been studying emerging viral infections for over a decade, said that over the last 60 years, the number of viral diseases has gone up four times and the outbreaks per year has increased three times.
He added that there are thousands of new viruses in the world. Interestingly these are new only to the world of humans and science as they have been existing among the wild for thousands of years.
Viruses are not coming to humans, but humans are going to them. It is humans, who are getting into the forest, and using the forest land to build malls, estates or convert them into plantations, including soya bean plantation in Amazon, palm oil plantation in Indonesia, Malaysia, live stock ranching, agricultural expansion, logging etc.
Dr. Barbara Han, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York, said, “Whatever survives, spills out. Deforestation is closely tied to disease emergence.” Dr Han said that by 2050, more than half of the world’s population is expected to live in the tropics and subtropics. Where as at present only 15 percent of the world’s rain forests still remain untouched, but the rest has been burned down.
Human activities are rapidly impacting the environment and hampering the balance of existing biodiversity. With all these changes, comes along the era of new and deadly viruses. We witness it a lot many times that, if deforestation happens in certain area then animals show up in nearly farm lands or houses. In the same manner if these virus-carrying animals or bats enter human space or spit or pee or poop on a human or in our farm lands then these viruses enter human race.
In 2017, Dr. Olival was working on project ‘PREDICT’, along with a team from the EcoHealth Alliance, who were trying to investigate where the most dangerous unknown pathogens are likely to be living. The team predicted that the next pandemic would emerge from bats, as they are already known to be cause of many human pandemics, including Sars, which emerged from cave-dwelling bats in China, and Ebola.
Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, raised a pertinent point. Dr. Morse told BBC, “I think we are better able to respond to pandemics today than ever, but part of the problem is mobilising the resources and political will to take them seriously. I feel the greatest problem is not so much the pathogen – it’s complacency.”
The key causes of increasing rate of viruses are rampant human consumerism, globalisation, overselling of tourism industry and growing clutches of capitalism, in-short human expansion into the wild. We, humans need to learn from past and from our catastrophic mistakes before becomes a past.