Virus and biodiversity

The picture shows a plate full of meat skewers on a white and blue tablecloth
The picture by duhangst is licensed with CC BY 2.0

Cattle and contagions

Since the world is fighting against the current Covid-19 pandemic, public opinion has become more sensitive to issues that were previously discussed only by experienced researchers in the interaction between humans and the animal environment. HIV, SARS, Ebola and many other less lethal diseases have been transmitted to humans from the animal kingdom.

One of the main reasons is the growing volume of meat consumed around the world. However, it would be wrong to point the finger at sheep and cattle farms. Normally the hygiene measures adopted are sufficient to neutralize any dangers to consumers’ health. The real problem is backyard farms and wild animal hunting. These practices are widespread in poor or developing countries and they are the only means of feeding large populations with animal proteins.

The reduction in biodiversity

Anyway, even more problematic is the issue of reduction in biodiversity. The human population is growing at increasingly intense rate and must feed. To do so, it invades ever more deeply ecosystems, which have been stable for tens of millennia, altering the quantitative relationships between animal species. It can easily happen that animals carrying potentially lethal viruses multiply exponentially, since those species that limited their reproduction are fewer and fewer due to anthropization. In these conditions it is clear that the probability of a genre leap to man can only increase.

In other words: less biodiversity = more diseases. But there is more. If this mechanism had occurred in times characterized by sporadic relationships between human groups, the problem would have been limited to a few areas of the globe. Today, this is clearly not the case. Therefore, the researchers’ warning: it is not a question of whether there will be other pandemics. Certainly, there will be, we only do not know when.

An uncertain future

This perspective poses problems that are not easy to solve from the health point of view. We can equip ourselves to fight pandemics with new vaccines, drugs, hospitals and medical staff but this is only a partial remedy. Viruses and bacteria run infinitely faster than medical research; health personnel, when no pandemic is underway, would remain inactive for years in an unsustainable condition. Currently, no one is able to answer these questions.