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‘Why wait for it?’ How to predict a pandemic

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Strides are being made towards an open access atlas that could predict where dangerous animal-borne viruses will next appear

How do you predict where a deadly tropical disease such as Ebola, possibly the most virulent in the world, will appear next? Since it first emerged in a small town on the edge of a Congolese forest, it has broken out in seven other African countries, often thousands of miles apart.

Sometimes it has spilled out of remote rainforest and then disappeared for years. Other times it has turned up in cities, baffling world bodies and governments that can only try to respond as fast as possible. But actually, given good data, the notoriously unpredictable zoonotic – or animal-borne – disease, which is passed to humans via primates and probably bats, may actually be quite predictable, believes David Redding, a researcher at the ZSL Institute of Zoology in London.

Related: Viruses do not take breaks. The world can learn from how the DRC is beating Ebola

We’re at the stage now with viruses where weather forecasting was 50 years ago

There is a widespread misconception that wild nature is the greatest source of zoonotic disease

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