The Pandemic Phenomenon

Illustrated by Jennifer Broza

We are currently in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are faced with an extreme amount of uncertainty. Every day, we hope for the return to normalcy. We wish that life would just return to the way it was. We want this to end. Unless we change the way we interact with the environment, we will experience many, many more of these devastating diseases.

SARS-CoV-2 is a zoonotic disease, as were SARS and Ebola. A zoonotic disease is an infectious disease that is transmitted between vertebrate animals and humans [2]. Novel zoonoses are emerging at a rapid pace, yet were prominent prior to the most recent one, COVID-19. According to the CDC, six out of every 10 infectious diseases found in humans are zoonotic. Spill-over occurs when a pathogen has the ability to jump from an animal to a human, thus giving it the power to spread disease [5].This spillover of disease from animals to humans is directly correlated to the way society interacts with nature. The more rainforests that get cleared, the more likely an interaction there is to occur between humans and animals [3]. 

Surprising to some, the actions of our society are a reason for this continual rapid emergence of zoonoses [4]. “The closer humans are to animals… the greater the likelihood of interactions between them, and the greater the opportunity for zoonotic spillover.” Animals have always lived in environments with each other, meaning they have interacted with the same species for decades without a pandemic like this one. It was not until the recent increase in deforestation that humans started entering ecosystems [4].

The Rainforest Alliance stated that by not taking care of the planet, we are not taking care of ourselves [2]. When we destroy forests, we also destroy thriving and balanced ecosystems. This results in the concentration of animals into smaller areas, which enables them to more easily swap infectious diseases. This also increases the chance of the emergence of a novel strain [3]. Studies show that “Stopping deforestation will not only reduce our exposure to new disasters but also tamp down the spread of a long list of other vicious diseases that have come from rainforest habitats—Zika, Nipah, malaria, cholera and HIV among them.

There are feasible ways to prevent destruction, which will in turn decrease the chance of zoonotic disease transmission. If humans were to eat less meat, there would be a reduced demand for crops; if humans were to consume fewer processed foods, the palm oil demand would also decrease [3]. These lifestyle changes can save the forests, therefore decreasing the probability of another zoonotic disease being passed to humans. Currently, only “15 percent of the world’s rainforests still remain intact.” If humans do not make a concerted effort to stop deforestation, we will continue to suffer from deadly pandemics.

Unless society as a whole makes an effort to save our planet, we will continue to experience and suffer from pandemics. Ecosystems are delicately balanced and when disturbed, previous inhabitants have the capability to interact with humans in a manner that can lead to the creation and spread of other novel zoonoses. Deforestation and pandemics are tightly linked, and the only way to stop the pandemic phenomenon is to change how we interact with the natural world.

Edited by: Caelan Miller
Illustrated by: Jennifer Broza

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