The coronavirus pandemic has changed billions of lives around the globe as many stay-at-home mandates have been ordered by governments in multiple nations. Millions have been infected and hundreds of thousands of people have died from the virus. Leading immunologist in the US and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Doctor Anthony Fauci, has said that we may be entering “a pandemic era.”
In a research report for the scientific journal Cell, Fauci and David Morens, a medical historian and colleague of Fauci’s, predict that epidemics like the coronavirus will become increasingly more common in the next few years due to population growth, society expansion, and deforestation.
Diseases Jumping to Humans
They said that “the past decade has witnessed unprecedented pandemic explosions” referring to the swine flu, Zika virus, and Ebola. They have claimed that “COVID-19, recognized in late 2019, is but the latest example of an unexpected, novel, and devastating pandemic disease.”
Most of the viruses have historically been zoonotic or originating from animals, but they have been able to spread to humans through the “host switching” process. Some have connected this process to human interactions with animals.
Fauci and Morens explained that it is true that deadly viruses have threatened human existence since the Neolithic age as humans increased interactions with domesticated animals. However, there has been a sharp spike in viruses in the past decade that can mostly be attributed to the growth of human influence in the world.
They assert that there is “a powerful argument that human activities and practices have become the key determinant of disease emergence.” The increasing human influence on ecosystems has resulted in human behaviors that “perturb the environment or result in new human-created ecological niches.” These all have an impact on spreading diseases. The two scientists added, “the more populous and crowded we as a species become, and the more we travel, the more we provide opportunities for emerging diseases.”
Anthropogenic Impacts on the Environment Relate to Pandemics
Fauci and Morens warn that due to the continuous ecological niches we create, it becomes more and more likely for infectious diseases to emerge. “There is nothing new about this situation, except that we now live in a human-dominated world in which our increasingly extreme alterations of the environment induce increasingly extreme backlashes from nature.”
They predict that if we don’t change our behavior towards the environment, the coronavirus will only be the beginning of a wave of deadly diseases that will enter our ecosystems. A professor of veterinary microbiology at the University of Melbourne agreed with the prediction explaining, “while we have always had epidemics and plagues, it is the massive increase in population mobility that has led to an increased risk. Combined with habitat destruction and humans using more of the planet for living space, these three things will increase risk of future pandemics.”
The virologists have made it clear that although vaccines serve as a temporary fix, it is only a matter of time before a new, deadly infectious disease enters our communities once more if we don’t change the way we interact with the environment.