Animal-to-human disease outbreaks are becoming more frequent and deadly: research

New research has found animal-to-human spillover of disease is becoming more frequent and deadly.

New research has found animal-to-human spillover of disease is becoming more frequent and deadly. Photo: AAP

Animal-to-human infections are increasing at an alarming rate and are set to kill 12 times as many people in 2050 compared to 2020, according to new research.

Research, published in MBJ Global Health, found that on current trends, the deaths from four different viruses — Filoviruses, SARS Coronavirus 1, Nipah virus and Machupo Virus — have been increasing between 9 per cent each year between 1963 and 2019.

“If these annual rates of increase continue, we would expect the analysed pathogens to cause four times the number of spillover events and 12 times the number of deaths in 2050 than in 2020,” the researchers said.

“These figures are likely to be an underestimate … due to the strict inclusion criteria for the pathogens in the analysis.”

COVID-19 wasn’t included in the study, and the researchers believed the figures were underestimated because advances in surveillance and detection weren’t accounted for.

The study

The researchers examined 3150 outbreaks and epidemics over 56 years which caused a total of 17,232 deaths, drawing from a range of official sources.

The researchers said it is clear from historical trends that urgent action is needed to address large and growing risks to global health.

“Our evaluation of the historical evidence suggests that the series of recent epidemics sparked by zoonotic spillover are not an aberration or random cluster,” they said.

“Spillover-driven epidemics have become both larger and more frequent,” they said.

Zoonotic epidemics — or those caused when an infection crosses from animals to humans, are generally becoming larger and more frequent, raising the risk of epidemics and pandemics breaking out.

Crossover diseases from animals to humans are the most common source of pandemics. Photo: Getty

Climate change and land use are predicted to increase the frequency of spillover events as population density and the proximity of human and animal habitats crossover, with animal-to-human infection being the most common cause of most modern epidemics.

COVID origin

The research states that “the COVID-19 pandemic has focused attention on patterns of infectious disease spillover,” but the increasing trend of death and spillover events can “be altered by concerted global efforts to improve our capacity to prevent and contain outbreaks.”

“The ultimate package of measures to support global prevention, preparedness, and resilience is not yet clear,” the researchers said.

“What is clear, however, from the historical trends, is that urgent action is needed to address a large and growing risk to global health.”

While there is controversy and debate over the origin of COVID-19, most scientists believe it follows the common source.

The joint WHO-China report, published in March 2021, ranked a zoonotic spillover as “likely to very likely” to be the source of a global pandemic that upended the world and a comprehensive study into COVID-19’s origin found two separate cross-species transmission events at the Wuhan Wet Market.

Professor Edward Holmes, one of the authors of the study, wrote that the research “lays to rest the idea that the virus escaped from a laboratory.”

The lab leak theory rests on a remarkable coincidence: SARS-CoV-2 emerged in a city “with a laboratory that works on bat coronaviruses,” he wrote.

“Some of these bat coronaviruses are closely related to SARS-CoV-2. But not close enough to be direct ancestors.”

A study argued the Wuhan wet market was the source of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Getty

The MBJ Global Health study found the rapid development of messenger mRNA vaccines for COVID-19, surveillance techniques passive wastewater testing and other technology developed during the pandemic can play a part in reducing death in future outbreaks.

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