Half a million ‘undiscovered’ animal viruses could cause the next pandemic - the science explained

Scientists estimate that there are more than 500,000 currently “undiscovered” viruses which could infect people, potentially leading to another pandemic.

But a new report says that it would be 100 times cheaper to prevent future pandemics than to deal with the outbreaks after they’ve happened.

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What causes pandemics?

Global agricultural expansion, travel, and the wildlife trade are the main factors which contribute to the emergence of new diseases, which often come from “microbial spillover,” due to contact between wildlife, people and livestock.

The report also suggests that deadly diseases thrive in areas where nature is destroyed, and “the recent exponential rise in consumption and trade, driven by demand in developed countries and emerging economies.”

While the report warns that “more frequent, deadly and costly pandemics” are forecast, there are a number of potential solutions which can reduce the chance of outbreaks.

What can be done to prevent outbreaks?

The solutions include improved government coordination, and greater support for people who live in places which border wild areas.

Taxes aimed at reducing meat production, as well as an end to subsidies for climate-damaging companies, would also reduce the chance of future outbreaks, according to the report.

The report was authored by a number of scientists and published by a UN-organisation, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

“There is no great mystery about the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic, or of any modern pandemic,” said Peter Daszak, lead author of the report and president of EcoHealth Alliance, which develops science-based solutions to prevent pandemics and promote conservation.

“The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment. We’re seeing pandemics every 20 to 30 years.

“Clearly, in the face of Covid-19, with more than one million human deaths, and huge economic impacts, [the current] reactive approach is inadequate. There is enough science that shows a way forward and would involve transformative change that rethinks our relationship with nature.”