World warned to prepare for more Ebola-like outbreaks
Outbreaks of deadly animal-to-human viruses such as Ebola could become more likely due to climate change and human encroachment into untouched natural habitats, a leading United Nations expert has warned.
Dr David Nabarro, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy on Ebola, said the world should prepare for more major outbreaks of zoonotic diseases - those which can pass from animals to humans - which he said were a "local and global threat to humanity".
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has claimed nearly 10,500 lives in little over a year, is believed to have originated in fruit bats - and Dr Nabarro believes it is not the only disease that could transfer and spread. "I've been dealing with influenzas and Sars and Mers, they are a tip of the iceberg," he said.
"There will be more: one, because people are moving around more; two, because the contact between humans and the wild is on the increase; and maybe because of climate change. The worry we have is that there will be a really infectious and beastly bug that comes along."
Some experts suspect that population pressure and deforestation in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, which has brought people into closer contact with the wild-animal hosts of numerous viruses - combined with changes to rainfall patterns that affected the numbers and behaviour of bats - may have led to the first transmission ever of Ebola in West Africa.
Dr Nabarro said climate change was expanding the range of disease-carrying mosquitoes, posing threats to millions more people from infections like malaria. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which provoked a global panic in the 2000s, is a deadly flu-like illness caused by a virus thought to have originated from wild animals sold at food markets in China.
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) is an emerging illness that has killed 350 people, most of them in the Middle East. It is thought to originate in bats and to have been passed on to humans by camels. (© Independent News Service)