04/07/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 04/07/2020 17:44
As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, a common question is, can infectious diseases be connected to environmental change? Yes, indicates a study published today from the University of California, Davis' One Health Institute.
Exploitation of wildlife by humans through hunting, trade, habitat degradation and urbanization facilitates close contact between wildlife and humans, which increases the risk of virus spillover, found a study published April 8 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Many of these same activities also drive wildlife population declines and the risk of extinction.
The study provides new evidence for assessing spillover risk in animal species and highlights how the processes that create wildlife population declines also enable the transmission of animal viruses to humans.
'Spillover of viruses from animals is a direct result of our actions involving wildlife and their habitat,' said lead author Christine Kreuder Johnson, project director of USAID PREDICT and director of the EpiCenter for Disease Dynamics at the One Health Institute, a program of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. 'The consequence is they're sharing their viruses with us. These actions simultaneously threaten species survival and increase the risk of spillover. In an unfortunate convergence of many factors, this brings about the kind of mess we're in now.'
For the study, the scientists assembled a large dataset of the 142 known viruses that spill over from animals to humans and the species that have been implicated as potential hosts. Using the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, they examined patterns in those species' abundance, extinction risks and underlying causes for species declines.
The data show clear trends in spillover risk that highlight how people have interacted with animals throughout history. Among the findings:
'We need to be really attentive to how we interact with wildlife and the activities that bring humans and wildlife together,' Johnson said. 'We obviously don't want pandemics of this scale. We need to find ways to co-exist safely with wildlife, as they have no shortages of viruses to give us.'
Study co-authors include Peta Hitchens of the University of Melbourne Veterinary Clinic and Hospital, and Pranav Pandit, Julie Rushmore, Tierra Smiley Evans, Cristin Weekley Young and Megan Doyle of the UC Davis One Health Institute's EpiCenter for Disease Dynamics.
The study was supported by funding through the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threat PREDICT program and the National Institutes of Health.