Why are epidemics likely to multiply

Scientists estimate that new epidemics, of the magnitude of Covid-19, will likely occur in the coming years due to the evolution of our environment and lifestyles.

Experts are sounding the alarm. While the Covid-19 epidemic is currently declining, without ending, scientists are already thinking about its repercussions and believe that new epidemics are likely to emerge in the coming years. This is due in particular to global warming, deforestation and increased movement of people.

H1N1, Zika, Ebola, Covid-19… Will pandemics be the evil of the 21st century? Some experts get worried anyway when they notice the evolution of our lifestyles and environment.

“The possibility of a pandemic is greater than before,” warns Yazdan Yazdanbana, director of the National Agency for Research on AIDS and Infectious Diseases (ANRS), in Paris.

Climate and animal fauna involved

The first concern: global warming. “When the temperature rises by 4°C, there are bound to be more mosquitoes carrying microbes,” the ANRS director estimates.

Rising temperatures – with the many consequences we imagine for the evolution of ecosystems – also threaten to drive many animal species to leave their habitats for more habitable places, notes a study published April 28 in the American Scientific Journal. temper nature. Which would lead them to contact the human race.

This encounter between humans and certain animal species is not insignificant, because “65% of pathogens come from the animal world and the environment,” recalls Yazdan Yazdanbana.

If nothing is proven with certainty, it is “highly likely” that the virus responsible for the Covid-19 epidemic is itself a zoonosis, that is, a disease of animal origin, remembers Benjamin Roach, director of research at the Institute for Research and Development, in Provence.

Other phenomena contribute to an increased risk of confrontations between humankind and animals: urbanization, and thus the deforestation of numerous forests, according to Yazdan Yazdanpanah, as well as intensive agriculture and cattle-raising, according to Benjamin Roche.

Finally, very frequent movements of people from one side of the globe to the other “accelerate the spread of viruses”, notes the ANRS director. In short, there are two opposing facts of the researcher: “On the one hand, the environment has changed, and on the other hand, the population has aged and become more fragile.”

To fight, we must innovate.

According to a report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), published in October 2020, the best way to combat pandemic risks remains to drastically reduce human activities that threaten biodiversity and reduce contact between humans and animal species. Mission Impossible? “It’s a matter of finding a fair compromise with human food needs,” said Benjamin Roche, one of the study’s authors.

But are we not afraid that it is already too late, unless we radically change our way of life? Yazdan Yazdanbana refuses to give in to pessimism, considering that the scientific community is aware of the risks and we can prepare for them.

“To fight, you have to innovate,” he says, referring to a “plan of attack” in preparation for epidemiologists.

This plan will consist in particular of closely studying the evolution of viruses in animals, in order to better identify the diseases that are likely to be transmitted to the human race. Scientists are also working to develop new treatments and vaccines for “five to ten pathogens at risk of epidemics such as chikungunya or Zika,” according to the doctor.

The One Health – One Health projects, launched in January 2021, examine the links between human health and our environment. By conducting research and studies on viruses on animals, it aims to prevent the transmission of animal diseases to humans.

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