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What will it take to prevent future pandemics?

By William A. Haseltine

14 Apr 2023 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

There are any number of animal-borne viruses beyond Covid-19 that could potentially spread to humans, William Haseltine writes in PS. But not nearly enough is being done to identify the riskiest ones.

AIRFIELD COUNTY, CONNECTICUT – Although COVID-19 restrictions are rapidly fading around the world, we are still reeling from the impact of the past three years. More than 6.8 million deaths from COVID-19 have been officially reported, but the true number may be closer to 15 million. There has been immense suffering and social and economic turmoil, and the virus itself still poses a clear and present risk, with one in five Americans reporting ongoing “long COVID” symptoms.

Worse, COVID-19 is far from the last zoonotic disease with the potential to devastate the global population. Innumerable other viruses – many of which remain understudied – have been discovered in animals. Any of them could serve as a source of new human viruses, which often originate from repeat-offender virus families such as coronaviruses, orthomyxoviruses, and filoviruses. When viruses from these families show up in mammals or birds, there is always a risk that they could develop the potential to infect humans. And when that happens, the fact of globalization means that those viruses can spread faster than ever before.

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