News Release 

A global system for monitoring wildlife pathogens to prevent zoonotic disease spillover

American Association for the Advancement of Science

In a Perspective, Mrinalini Watsa argues that a rigorous decentralized system for global wildlife disease surveillance is needed to address the looming potential for outbreaks of novel zoonotic diseases. According to Watsa, such a system could identify and source emerging spillover events before becoming global health crises, like the current COVID-19 pandemic. Three of the most recent emerging infectious disease (EID) outbreaks - severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and the current COVID-19 disease - have been caused by zoonotic coronaviruses. Also, many outbreaks of other intractable diseases like HIV, Ebola and H1N1, which have plagued humans in recent history, also owe their origins from spillover events from intermediate animal hosts. However, despite that almost 90% of the 180 identified RNA viruses harmful to humans have animal origins, sourcing spillover events remains difficult due to a lack of national or international protocol on pathogen screening in animals or animal products, particularly in wildlife markets. Watsa argues that the infectious disease risks associated with the wildlife trade remain one of the largest unmet challenges in current EID surveillance. Wildlife markets - both legal and illegal - create interesting combinations of humans and unfamiliar species, often in close quarters and under unhygienic, immunocompromising conditions, which can promote disease transmission. Yet disease surveillance within them is mostly absent. The author outlines how modern wildlife disease surveillance approaches could be used to build a decentralized global system based on the widespread use of portable and affordable molecular diagnostic technology. The authors suggest that by including more stakeholders in the efforts, rather than just research labs and health institutions, decentralization could facilitate global participation, particularly in the most at-risk and underresourced regions.

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