The Grapevine

Next Pandemic Could Come From Amazon Rainforest, Experts Warn

The Amazon rainforest could be the next source of a virus that may cause another pandemic. Experts warned that human activities like deforestation may soon reach the areas that are potential reservoirs of disease and habitats of animals carrying harmful viruses.  

Estimates showed that 60 percent of the 335 diseases that appeared between 1960 and 2004 came from animals. Even today’s most common diseases HIV, Ebola, SARS and the currently spreading COVID-19 are all linked to animal-to-human transmissions, IFLScience reported.

Similar disease may be hiding in the Amazon rainforest. It serves as the "the world's biggest coronavirus pool" since experts believed it holds similar viruses that cause common cold, SARS and MERS.

"The Amazon is a huge reservoir of viruses," David Lapola, a global change ecologist from the University of Campinas in Brazil, told AFP news agency. "That's one more reason not to use the Amazon irrationally like we're doing now. We'd better not try our luck."

One study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggested that disrupting the environmental equilibrium in the Amazon could significantly increase the risk of virus spillover. Human activities, such as hunting, wildlife trade, habitat degradation, deforestation and urbanization, have been growing in the rainforest and putting people closer to wildlife. 

"Spillover of viruses from animals is a direct result of our actions involving wildlife and their habitat," Christine Kreuder Johnson, lead study author and a professor of Epidemiology and Ecosystem Health at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said in a statement. "The consequence is they're sharing their viruses with us. These actions simultaneously threaten species survival and increase the risk of spillover."

Aside from close contact, deforestation also provides ideal conditions for mosquitoes to thrive. They have been known as vectors of harmful diseases, such as Zika, malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever. 

Researchers believed that increased deforestation of the Amazon rainforest contributed to the Zika virus epidemic that affected the Americas in 2015 and 2016. The decline in forested areas helped to improve conditions favorable to mosquitos.

Experts did not provide a timeline for when the next pandemic would occur. But the rapidly growing damage in the Amazon rainforest and even in other areas in Southeast Asia and Central Africa may put the world closer to another viral spillover.

Amazon rainforest Researchers warned that tree loss due to extreme heat, drought and deforestation may soon cut the Amazon rainforest’s ability to absorb large amounts of carbon. Pixabay

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