“We don’t know what else is out there.” Five ways new diseases emerge — and what we can do about them.

From forests and farms to our own back yards, there’s a lot we can do to reduce future risks of pandemic outbreaks

Photos © iStockphoto.com/benedek

As the world grapples with COVID-19, virologists know that other potential pandemics are waiting in the wings.

The spread of many infectious diseases from humans to animals can be traced to destruction of forests around the world. Photo courtesy of Planet Labs, Inc. from Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

“We are playing a Ponzi scheme with the ecosystems that allow our planet to survive.” — Raina Plowright

Intensively farmed poultry and other farm animals have been implicated in the spread of a variety of zoonotic diseases. Photos © iStockphoto.com/Marcus Chung

Veterinarians and epidemiologists argue that an important way to reduce the risk of future pandemics is to farm more sustainably.

More than 320 people were infected and dozens when vermin spread SARS through the Amoy Gardens apartment complex in Hong Kong in 2002. Photo courtesy of WMwiki from Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 3.0
Exotic pets such as pygmy hedgehogs may be cute, but they also can transmit a variety of diseases to their owners and others. Photo courtesy of Leigh Kelsey from Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Human error, even in high-security laboratories that handle the most dangerous pathogens, must be taken seriously when assessing potential future pandemics.

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Ensia is a solutions-focused nonprofit media outlet reporting on our changing planet.

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