World Zoonoses Day goes unnoticed amid Covid-19 pandemic


Pune - Significance of July 6 is lost as the world battles the contagion

By Nithin Belle

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Published: Thu 8 Jul 2021, 8:56 AM

Last updated: Thu 8 Jul 2021, 10:18 AM

An important day on July 6 marking the anniversary of Louis Pasteur’s first successful testing of the rabies vaccine on a human being, went largely unnoticed amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

July 6 is observed as World Zoonoses Day every year, marking the successful administering of the first rabies vaccine by Louis Pasteur in 1885.

But the past 18 months have seen the world battling Covid-19, one of the worst zoonotic diseases to have struck humanity.

These diseases are transmitted by viruses with an animal origin to humans and include the SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19, MERS and Ebola.

The World Biodiversity Council estimates that there are 1.7 million undetected viruses in the animal kingdom, of which 827,000 could infect humans.

Realising the dangers of trading in wild animals following the outbreak of Covid-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) had called for a ban on wild animal markets, especially in Asia and Africa.

Millions of wild animals are traded in scores of countries for food or for traditional medicines. Most infections over the past century have originated from animals or birds; these include besides Covid-19, swine flu, bird flu, MERS, Zika, Ebola, Nipah and West Nile fever.

A new paper by wildlife trade and infectious disease researchers from the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), Bengaluru, reveals that a quarter of mammal species in wildlife trade host 75 per cent of diseases that are transferred from animals to humans.

“Mammals, wildlife trade and the next global pandemic, the new paper brought out in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and published in the journal Current Biology, provides empirical evidence of the association between wildlife trade and zoonotic disease risks, said Sandeep Sen of ATREE and the co-author of the paper.

“It’s important to survey and monitor groups that have high zoonotic virus richness,” he said. “Primates, carnivores, ungulates and rodents are part of the species. These groups may likely harbour more undiscovered zoonotic viruses,” he added.

A quarter of the mammals in the wildlife trade harbour about 75 per cent of known zoonotic viruses, which he says is alarming. “What this means is that we need to monitor and curtail trade in a very large number of species,” Sen said.

The association of 226 viruses responsible for zoonotic diseases with over 800 mammal species were studied by the researchers and classified into three categories: traded, non-traded and domesticated mammals. It was revealed that primates, bats, ungulates and carnivores hosted 58 per cent of known zoonotic viruses in the wildlife trade. Rodents and bats were significant transmitters of diseases.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has also warned that there are direct links between what humans do to nature and the emergence of infectious diseases. “We need to change how we are consuming wild animals, how we are producing food and how we are using land,” the WWF said.

According to the WWF, as human pressures on nature grow, the frequency of zoonotic diseases have increased sharply. Ebola, SARS, MERS and Zika are just some of the zoonotic diseases that emerged over the last century. “Today, the risk of another disease jumping from animals to people is higher than ever,” it warned.

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