Zoonotic Diseases Could Kill More People in 2050 Compared To 2020, Study Warns

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A recent study warns that if current trends continue, four deadly diseases transmitted from animals to humans may cause 12 times more deaths in 2050 compared to 2020. Researchers in California have noted that in the last 60 years there has been a rapid increase in zoonotic infections, which are diseases that can pass from animals to humans.

Zoonotic diseases leading to spillover events

The research team identified four rapidly increasing zoonotic diseases which include, SARS Coronavirus 1, Filoviruses (like Ebola and Marburg virus), Machupo virus, and Nipah virus, which are leading to more frequent spillover events.

Researchers at Ginkgo Bioworks noted in BMJ Global Health that climate and land-use changes are projected to raise the occurrence of zoonotic spillover events, a major source of modern epidemics. Analyzing past trends in zoonotic spillover can offer insights into future epidemic frequency and severity. However, historical epidemiological data is often fragmented and challenging to analyse.

To tackle the problem, the authors used their comprehensive epidemiological database to track spillover event trends, providing insights into future patterns. Their database comprises data from the World Health Organization’s Disease Outbreak News, major viral outbreaks with 50 or more fatalities, and historically significant pandemics such as the 1918 and 1957 flu pandemics.

The study concentrated on SARS Coronavirus 1, Filoviruses, Nipah virus, and Machupo virus, all of which pose significant threats to public health and have the potential to disrupt economies and political systems.

Around 75 spillover events reported in the past five decades

Researchers analyzed 3,150 outbreaks and epidemics between 1963 and 2019, focusing on trends in outbreaks and fatalities from viruses. They found 75 spillover events in 24 countries that caused 17,232 deaths. Filoviruses caused more than 15,700 deaths in 40 outbreaks, mainly in Africa. Excluding COVID-19, the analysis showed a yearly increase of about five percent in spillover events and nine percent in virus-related deaths from 1963 to 2019.

Dr. Amanda Jean Meadows’ team warns that if current rates of increase persist, the analysed pathogens could lead to four times as many spillover events and 12 times as many deaths in 2050.

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