Scientists: Expect Next Pandemic at Edge of Forest

Deforestation contributes to favorable conditions for an outbreak
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 15, 2021 7:55 PM CST
Scientists: Expect Next Pandemic at Edge of Forest
A section of Amazon rainforest stands next to soy fields in Brazil. Such areas could breed the next pandemic, scientists say.   (AP Photo/Leo Correa, file)

There will be more pandemics, scientists say. They don't know when the next one will begin, but they have a rough idea of where. Places where humans are moving into untouched habitats, such as the edge of the Amazon rainforest, have all the ingredients of an outbreak, the Los Angeles Times reports. Among the risk factors for humans living on the edge are the 1.6 million viruses that mammals and birds carry. Some of them can be fatal if they make the jump to humans, as the coronavirus did. If they turn out to be transmissible between people, it can lead to a pandemic.

Deforestation already has caused an increase in infectious disease, scientists say. It's driven by, for example, cattle ranching in Brazil, mining in Africa, and the cultivation of palm oil in Malaysia. The number of disease hot zones in such places is quickly increasing. Deforestation increases global warming, and higher temperatures help disease-carrying insects thrive. Zoologists have tied about one-third of all known outbreaks around the world to the changes in the use of land. Since 1970, 270,000 square miles of rainforest in Brazil has been lost, an area twice the size of Germany.

Once 40% of a land area has been destroyed, a US researcher said, there are changes. Wild animals encroach on human habitats for food, and viruses start spreading. "They cut down a chunk of pristine forest and build a shopping mall, and people think it's progress," said Alessandra Nava, a veterinarian and researcher who tracks viruses in the Amazon. "But when you do that, you're leaving an entire group of animals without a home." Brazil had argued at the UN climate conference that it's doing better at protecting the Amazon and will end illegal deforestation by 2028. But new data show an increase in deforestation last month over October 2020; 339 square miles was lost, per CNBC. (Read more deforestation stories.)

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