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Is Agriculture Intensification linked to Emergence of Viruses?

Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan

Thought in the times of Corona Lock Down? 

Infectious diseases that are naturally from vertebrate animals to humans and vice versa are called Zoonotic. They are caused by all types of pathogenic agents, including bacteria, parasites, fungi, viruses, and prions. They have been recognized for many centuries, their impact on public health has increased in the last few decades. The transmission of these pathogens among species results in the emergence of new infectious diseases in humans as well as in domestic and wild animals. 

The recent century is seeing several outbreaks in humans and these infectious diseases in humans are linked to such an initial zoonotic transmission (from animal to human host).  Infectious Diseases like the Dengue, Chikungunya, Nipah, SARS1, along with the recent outbreak of COVID 19 which was found to be originated in Wuhan in China is severely linked to human transmission from bats to human hosts. The increasingly globalized society is the main reason for contributing to the apparently increased transmission of pathogens to humans over the past decades. Increasing population and its associated changes, exploitation of the environment and hence losing the biodiversity are all contributory factors for these kinds of Outbreaks.

According to the study reported in PATHOGENS, they enlist factors related to our increasingly globalized society have contributed to the apparently increased transmission of pathogens from animals to humans over the past decades; these include changes in human factors such as increased mobility, demographic changes, and exploitation of the environment. The 20th century has seen emerging Zoonotic viruses like Nipah, SARS1 and COVID 19, which is severely linked to human transmission from bats to human hosts. 

The zoonosis emergence is also largely linked to agricultural intensification and environmental change according to an article in PNAS. The study found epidemiological interactions between wildlife and livestock.  The study also goes on to explain that future zoonotic diseases will be closely linked to the evolution of the agriculture–environment nexus. The available research works reiterate on the complexity and interrelatedness of environmental, biological, economic, and social dimensions of zoonotic pathogen emergence. Can we predict and control these zoonotic emergences? Are wet markets the whole source of the zoonotic viruses or claiming forests by mankind left us in such a situation? Did hampering the Biodiversity on a large scale globally lead to the emergence of these viruses? 

Agriculture Intensification meant modernization and intensification of farming systems and habitat clearing for cropping and grazing. According to the reports by PNAS, agriculture intensification has pushed diverse wildlife species together and pushing wildlife and livestock into overlapping environments, thus facilitating the transfer of novel agents into naive and susceptible species.  

The branch of Zoonosis requires immediate attention and what I  think, is earlier they be treated as a separate branch and improved collaboration between the different sectors to develop control strategies and implement surveillance and response activities at the animal-human interface. But, just as importantly, to establish control strategies we must also consider the interactions of humans and animals with ecosystems and the environment. We should be careful enough to not over step on each other's territories so that the animal viruses start coming and literally start being with us. 

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