Epidemics: where the next pandemic could come from

Remote cities in regions with high levels of forest loss in the area pose the greatest risk of animal pathogens causing epidemics in humans. This conclusion was reached by a Brazilian working group led by Cecilia S. Andreazzi of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute in Rio de Janeiro using a new model that takes into account social, economic and historical factors as well as environmental influences. As the team reports in the journal Science Advances, hunting and eating wild animals, so-called bushmeat, is a key factor in the risk of pathogens spreading to humans. Mobility also plays an important role. Although the analysis has so far only referred to the Brazilian Amazon region, the conclusions should apply to other tropical regions as well.

According to the working group, Brazil is particularly susceptible to outbreaks of originally animal pathogens. “Brazil is currently combining socio-ecological vulnerability with an ongoing economic and political crisis, making the country a possible breeding ground for the next pandemic,” he explains in his publication. Among other things, he cites the political climate in which environmental protection is ignored and laws are passed that promote the exploitation of nature. Additionally, the corona pandemic has exacerbated extreme poverty, another factor that favors potential epidemics. It is therefore necessary to develop a forecasting model that can be used to identify and monitor critical areas.

The team compared the regional distribution of outbreaks of nine reportable zoonoses in Brazil, including hantavirus, yellow fever and malaria, with social, environmental and geographic factors to uncover associations. This is based on the assumption that such a collection of factors favors these well-known diseases and new pathogens. The finding also identifies a wide variety of native mammals as risk factors, as well as geographically remote and degraded forests. On the other hand, more trees in the city and a lot of forest in the surrounding area have a protective effect.

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