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New book documents the rise in pandemic diseases and wonders what's next

The book ‘Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic’ tracks previous pandemics and attempts to determine what the next one will be.

File photo
File photo
Image: Eduardo Verdugo/AP/Press Association Images

A NEW BOOK offers a glimpse into the simple ways in which globalisation has helped epidemics to become pandemics.

‘Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic’ documenting a process called ‘spillover’ – the way in which diseases that originate in wild animals pass to humans.

The author, David Quammen, has travelled around the world to learn more about diseases such as AIDS and the Ebola virus in his attempts to determine what the next big pandemic might be.

In an interview about the findings in the book, Quammen believes that the perfect breeding grounds for pandemics remains the developing countries within the tropics.

He gives four reasons for this:

1) Being tropical, those countries in many cases contain forest ecosystems that are rich in animal species, rich also in viruses and other pathogens.
2) Those ecosystems are being disrupted by timber cutting, mining activities, and the harvest of bushmeat, all of which tend to bring people into contact with wild animals and the viruses they carry.
3) The population densities of humans in those countries are high – many people squashed closely together in villages and cities – which helps diseases spread once a spillover has occurred.
4) Basic health care and emergency medical facilities are underfunded and marginal, which increases the difficulty of stopping an epidemic once it begins.

Responding to why media reports don’t often report linkages between pandemics and their animal sources, Quammen believes that people continue to ‘think of human medical concerns and ecological considerations separately’.

Medical reporters don’t know much about chimpanzees or bats in the wild. But the reality is that human health, the disruption of wild ecosystems, the infection status of bats and rodents and monkeys, and the ecology and evolution of viruses are all inextricably connected.

This is despite the fact that 60 per cent of infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic (diseases transmitted between, or shared by, animals and humans).

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(W. W. Norton & Company/YouTube)

To read an edited extract from the book, please click here.

To view an infographic which details the effects of some pandemics from times past, please click here.

Read: WHO’s response to swine flu pandemic was ‘flawed’ >

About the author:

Paul Hyland

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