Duke University scholars recommend proactive approach in preventing future pandemics

Updated: Mar. 11, 2021 at 4:38 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - As the world tries to get back on its feet after the COVID-19 pandemic knocked it down, experts in infectious disease say we need to be more proactive to prevent new viral infections from becoming pandemics in the future.

As we begin to see the light at the end of this COVID-19 tunnel, three Duke University scholars say we should not relax.

“This is not a unique event. We’ve had previous outbreaks. Some of them, like HIV, have killed far more people than COVID-19 has. This emergence of diseases is routine. Some are small; some of them are catastrophic. We have to start doing things that will change that dynamic. This is not the last one. That’s an awful, terrible, depressing thing to say. But we have to be cognizant of that,” Professor of Conservation Ecology Stuart Pimm said.

Whether it was the HIV global epidemic in the 1980s, he H1N1 pandemic in 2009, or the current COVID-19 pandemic, there is a common thread.

“In all cases, it’s our human action imposing upon the natural world,” Pimm said.

Experts say we need to do more surveillance on new viruses in animals that could eventually spread to humans.

“We have sort of a whack-a-mole policy right now. We wait until a pathogen causes a lot of morbidity and then we respond,” Infectious Disease Specialist for Duke University, Dr. Gregory Gray said.

Humans have been harvesting animals for food for centuries. The difference now, Dr. Gregory says, is that we have much denser populations in cities and industrial farms that make it easier for viruses to replicate and spread.

“We need to find ways to do one health research, surveillance at the human/animal nexus in partnership with big agriculture. We’ve got to find ways to protect their business interest, and yet protect against new viruses that will cause morbidity in their animals and humans,” Dr. Gregory said. “There’s a bunch of new tools to do that. We have aerosol samplers, water samplers. Those of us in the human health fields have many more tools and many more resources. But there’s a big push back from industry. They’re very concerned that we might harm their businesses.”

Professor of emerging infectious diseases, Linfa Wang expressed a need for more transparency when new viruses emerge.

“Not a single nation wants you to discover a virus in their country. So, if we don’t change that, I think we have little hope of having transparency,” Wang said. “We have to treat virus like a common enemy, politics aside, like fighting terrorists or fighting crime. Interpol is an international organization to fight crime; can we have something like that to fight future viruses? This is our common enemy.”

They recommended legally binding policies that would require nations to report viruses early. They also suggested strengthening laws that regulate when animals can be transported to different parts of the world.

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