Adapted in English by Valérie Harnois
For many years, environmentalists, scientists, farmers, and other groups have been sounding the alarm. The exchange of germs is becoming more frequent than it was before. They note that every 14 to 16 months, a new infection appears. The conditions for these infections to develop, transmit, and remain active are more and more favourable.
While finding out about COVID-19, you may have heard of zoonosis (zoonoses) or zoonotic diseases. If you did, it was probably in the context of the source of the virus causing the present pandemic. Zoonotic diseases are diseases that naturally transmit from vertebrate animals to humans, or vice versa. In the case of COVID-19, the virus could have been transmitted from a bat or a pangolin to humans.
Being curious about the eco-epidemiology of zoonoses is actually quite trendy nowadays. The eco-epidemiology (or environmental epidemiology) looks at the influence of environmental factors on the transmission of diseases. More specifically, it looks at the influence exerted among animals, from humans to animals, from animals to humans, and it also looks at plants and the surrounding ecology.
But what kind of diseases are we talking about actually? Every disease and germ that needs a specific reservoir to develop and transmit. The reservoir can be a human, an animal, an insect, water, or even dirt. Germs include viruses (i.e., COVID-19, AIDS), bacteria (i.e., meningitis, tetanus, cholera, Lyme disease), parasites (i.e., lice, malaria, pinworm, ringworm), or prions (i.e., abnormal proteins that cause infectious diseases such as scrapie or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease also known as mad-cow disease).
Humans tend to occupy more and more space on the planet. This occupation affects the reservoirs of those germs which is necessary for germs to develop. Humans are destroying animals’ natural habitats, polluting water, gathering a lot of animals together for agriculture, transporting and moving contaminated merchandise from one continent to another, travelling to discover new horizons… Humans have therefore created, inadvertently, the perfect conditions for the spread of germs. We can also add to this the effect of global warming which forces animals to modify their habits and move around to survive.
In Quebec, we are not sheltered from these germs. Just think of all the ones circulating in schools: lice, pinworms, gastroenteritis, colds, chickenpox… And if we walk in the forest, we have to be wary of tics that can be reservoirs for Lyme disease.
These germs have different lifespans and require a reservoir to keep spreading. To protect yourself, you must break the chain of infection. In the case of COVID-19, the confinement is one of the methods to stop the virus from spreading and contaminating other people. It is also imperative to adopt good hygiene practices by washing your hands often, among other measures. However, we must study the eco-epidemiological phenomenon to understand what allows various organisms to become reservoirs and how germs are transmitted.
By now, you know that germs have always existed and always will. A better understanding of the causes can help control epidemics, put in place measures to avoid them, or, at least, to reduce their consequences with vaccines and medication. We become more and more aware that it is important to educate as many people as possible on this subject so that future decisions are coherent and work toward the same goal, which is to limit the transmission of germs and maintain the balance in the various ecosystems.
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