“Smart surveillance” of viral contagion is needed to lessen the consequences of the next pandemic

“Smart surveillance” of viral transmission from animals to humans, targeted preparation and research for drugs and vaccines, and global cooperation in monitoring and stopping the spread of disease are necessary to reduce deaths and mitigate economic consequences of the next pandemic, according to an international team of scientists.

In a perspective article published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the 14 experts cite virus pandemics dating from 1918 to the COVID-19 crisis as examples of how “the world has largely failed to meet the challenge of being better prepared to prevent or respond to the next outbreak.”

Future outbreaks are inevitable. The team says the best way to reduce the chances of widespread disease outbreaks and pandemics, and improve the prospects for mounting a rapid response, is to take a One Health approach to lessening these threats, working across disciplines and administrative barriers at all levels. levels to understand and address the links between human and animal health and the environment.

Ohio State University virologist and immunologist Linda Saif, a co-senior author on the paper, has been sounding the alarm about viruses affecting animals, wildlife, and humans for decades, providing expertise very early on in the study. pandemic about the dangers of SARS-CoV. -two. In 1995, her lab was the first to document the jump of a coronavirus from wild animals to cattle and from cattle to poultry. The recognition of cross-species transmission of coronaviruses from deer to cattle was prescient: In 2021, Saif was part of an Ohio State research team that showed SARS-CoV-2 could spread to deer. All these years later, the scientific community is still learning how cunning pathogens work.

“SARS-CoV-2 taught us that viruses don’t respect borders, walls, demographics or politics, nor do they respect species barriers,” said Saif, distinguished university professor at the State Food Animal Health Center. of Ohio with faculty appointments in departments. zootechnics and veterinary preventive medicine.

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“Emerging and re-emerging RNA viruses, including coronaviruses, are a major cause of disease transmission from animals to humans and back to animals, and that cross-species contagion allows viruses to establish new hosts in which they they can mutate and persist. The most effective way to fight back is to work as a global community and apply One Health practices for prevention and preparedness.”

Researchers from the United States, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe met in 2021 as the Independent Task Force on COVID-19 and Other Pandemics: Origins, Prevention, and Response. The working group was chaired by Gerald Keusch of the National Laboratory for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Boston University Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research and Policy, who is co-senior author of the PNAS paper.

The recommendations are based on their findings from a broad review of major RNA virus outbreaks over the past 50 years and research results before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. They paid particular attention to identifying places and times where specific interventions in the past might have blocked interspecies transmission to inform their proposed solutions for the future.

Evidence strongly suggests that the two SARS coronavirus outbreaks, in 2003 and 2019, can be attributed to coronaviruses in bats that most likely spread to intermediate animal hosts in farms or wildlife markets before infecting people; in the case of COVID-19, at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China. The task force found that the risk of a pandemic increases when people and animals interact closely in altered environments driven by land use and climate change, environmental degradation, the wildlife trade, the growth of population and economic pressure.

Addressing risk factors for these types of conditions is a focus of the group’s recommendations, which include:

  • Conduct early warning surveillance in places where people, wildlife, and domestic animals intermingle to detect potential high-threat zoonotic pathogens and inform the development of potential broad-spectrum vaccines and therapeutics.
  • Invest in research and development of diagnostics, antivirals, and vaccines for priority pathogens, and streamline pathways to enable rapid clinical testing and manufacturing of medical countermeasures.
  • Reduce drivers of infection risk and spread, in part by minimizing high-risk human-wildlife contact, on the front lines of disease emergence from the community to the country level.
  • Countering misinformation and misinformation about the prevention and control of emerging diseases based on research focused on building public trust and understanding of science and expert advice, and providing resources and trusted outlets for accurate information .
  • Establish an inclusive and transparent One Health governance framework at all levels for pandemic preparedness and response, and provide stable funding for all related global efforts.

It is no exaggeration to say that this requires global collaboration and coordination to find measures that allow us to predict, prevent, mitigate and control future pandemics. We know where opportunities have been missed in the past. We know which research questions most urgently need to be answered. We just have to seize the opportunity and be determined to act on what we know to improve the health of humans, animals and our ecosystem.”

Linda Saif, virologist and immunologist, The Ohio State University

This glimpse into a better future comes at a time when SARS-CoV-2 is still causing infections around the world and still has the potential to circulate as viral variants that would pose new threats to human health, and as they continue to contagions, potentially for animal health, the researchers pointed out.

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“The moment to invigorate these processes is now”, concludes the working group, “when the tragedy of COVID-19 continues to confront the public and politicians”.


Magazine reference:

Keusch, G.T. et al. (2022) Pandemic Origins and a One Health Approach to Preparedness and Prevention: Solutions Based on SARS-CoV-2 and Other RNA Viruses. PNAS. doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2202871119.

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