We have created “a perfect storm” for diseases from wildlife to spill over into humans and spread quickly around the world, scientists warn.
Human encroachment on the natural world speeds up that process.
This outlook comes from global health experts who study how and where new diseases emerge.
As part of that effort, they have now developed a pattern-recognition system to predict which wildlife diseases pose most risk to humans.
This approach is led by scientists at the University of Liverpool, UK, but it is part of a global effort to develop ways to prepare better for future outbreaks.
“In the last 20 years, we’ve had six significant threats – SARS, MERS, Ebola, avian influenza and swine flu,” Prof Matthew Baylis from the University of Liverpool told BBC News. “We dodged five bullets but the sixth got us.
“And this is not the last pandemic we are going to face, so we need to be looking more closely at wildlife disease.”
As part of this close examination, he and his colleagues have designed a predictive pattern-recognition system that can probe a vast database of every known wildlife disease.
Across the thousands of bacteria, parasites and viruses known to science, this system identifies clues buried in the number and type of species they infect. It uses those clues to highlight which ones pose most of a threat to humans.
If a pathogen is flagged as a priority, scientists say they could direct research efforts into finding preventions or treatments before any outbreak happens.
“It will be another step altogether to find out which diseases could cause a pandemic, but we’re making progress with this first step,” Prof Baylis said.