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Preventing a zoonotic disease pandemic

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Experts suggest new era of zoonoses and elevated risks demand new thinking and approaches.

Zoonotic diseases have been around for tens of thousands of years, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought to public attention the increased interest of zoonotic diseases, particularly the potential for animal agriculture to be the source of the next pandemic. The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology’s (CAST) has released a new paper, “Zoonotic Diseases in Animal Agriculture and Beyond: A One Health Perspective,” that focuses not only on zoonotic diseases, but also the importance of One Health.

“More than a dozen expert authors, led by Dr. Lonnie King, came together to bring this proposal into a full publication. This publication is the result of many months of writing, editing, revising, and reviewing, not only by the authors, but also CAST staff and a group of peer reviewers,” Sally Flis CAST president and Kent Schescke executive vice president and chief executive officer, wrote in the report. “We thank each member of the task force for their dedication to this paper; it is not possible without an enthusiastic team of volunteers.”

One Health brings together experts and thinking in biomedicine and health, but goes much further to include animal, environmental, climate sciences, social and behavioral sciences, agriculture, business, engineering, and many more fields. Zoonotic diseases are diseases of animals that infect humans and continue to afflict humanity and animal health and welfare. Some examples of zoonotic diseases that can be amplified by livestock and poultry include avian influenza, Nipah virus, and salmonellas. Most recently, coronaviruses have caused the SARS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and COVID-19 pandemics.

Because zoonoses emerge from the dynamic confluence of people, animals and their products, environment, agriculture, wildlife, vectors, food, water, antimicrobial use, and changing ecosystems, the study suggests that experts and organizations must rethink and reimagine ways to integrate and coordinate their actions.

Dr. Larry Brilliant, physician and epidemiologist, stated that outbreaks are inevitable, but pandemics are optional. The difference lies with appropriate and effective actions that must be planned and implemented across the interdependent domains of One Health. The publication provides recommendations and potential actions to prevent the next zoonotic disease pandemic.

“This new era of zoonoses and elevated risks demands new thinking and approaches. Rather than arguing about responsibility and assigning blame, now is the time to bring domestic and global animal agriculture into the fold of the holistic and integrated One Health approach,” the authors noted.

According to the report, strategies implemented within this approach should focus on building effective surveillance systems, developing early detection and response systems, engaging in new dialogues and collaborations across the health and environmental sectors, garnering greater investment in R&D and animal health infrastructures, and enhancing preparedness and response activities. Specifically, the authors recommend that animal production should adopt effective biosecurity strategies, promote vaccines, and readily share information. Such new strategies must be compatible and supportive of an appropriate business model that is fair and profitable for producers but not inwardly focused, they concluded.

“While we study history and now better understand that profound anthropogenic factors are creating a perfect microbial storm and altering our path to the future, our actions are often reactive and ineffective. Even with warning lights blinking red, our priorities and crises fade in the face of competing pressures and the reluctance to change the status quo.”

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