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Stopping the next one: What could the next pandemic be?
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One of Duong’s team works with a sample of bat urine (Credit: Sa Sola)
In this series, we explore which diseases are most likely to cause the next global pandemic and learn from the scientists racing to keep that from happening.
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The Covid-19 pandemic took much of the world by surprise. But not everyone. For years, epidemiologists and other experts have warned that we have been setting ourselves up for a global pandemic.

Most of the diseases experts worry about originate in animals. In fact, 75% of newly emerging diseases are zoonotic. Covid-19 – thought to have originated in pangolins sold at wet markets in China – was no different. But like Covid-19, zoonotic diseases are becoming riskier to humans because of our own actions. Our effect on the climate, encroachment on wildlife habitats and global travel have helped circulate animal-borne diseases. Combined with urbanisation, overpopulation and global trade, we’ve set up an ideal scenario for more pandemics to come.

In this multimedia series, we explore six of the diseases most likely to cause the next one, and examine the work being done to try to stop them. From Mers-carrying camels in Africa to the pigs with influenza in Europe, meet the animals and the diseases with the biggest pandemic potential and learn what we can do to stop them, before it’s too late.

Keep checking back as we update this page with the latest stories over the coming weeks.

This series was reported, written and produced by Harriet Constable and Jacob Kushner. It was edited by Amanda Ruggeri. Videos were edited by Harriet Constable and commissioned by Melissa Hogenboom. Reporting for this series was supported with funding from the Pulitzer Center.

Read:

Bats in Asia

Nipah virus is one of the World Health Organization’s top 10 priority diseases they believe could cause a pandemic. There’s no vaccination, it’s highly deadly, and there have already been a number of outbreaks in Asia. We meet the scientists studying the disease who believe overdevelopment and encroachment on bat habitat is making another spill-over more likely. Read our piece on how Nipah could be the next pandemic.

Mosquitoes in North America 

Each year, mosquito-borne diseases kill nearly one million people and infect some 700 million – nearly one out of every 10 people on Earth. Now, scientists at the US military base on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have discovered a dangerous mosquito species never seen before in the Western Hemisphere. Likely transported here from Asia hidden in shipping containers, it could soon spread Zika and other dangerous diseases across North America. Read our article on the insect that is bringing disease to new areas.

Camels in Africa

Mers is a coronavirus far deadlier than Covid-19. It’s spread by camels, which millions of people in Africa and the Middle East reply upon for milk and meat. As climate change and overpopulation puts more people into contact with camels, scientists fear an outbreak could be imminent. Meet the Kenyan scientists on the frontlines testing camels and people to try and stop a Mers pandemic before it begins. Read our piece on how camels are carrying Mers.

Pigs in Europe

The pig pandemic is upon us. The 2009 outbreak of H1N1, or swine flu, might have spurred reforms to factory farms worldwide. But today, farmers in Europe are not required to vaccinate themselves nor their herds, or to report the disease if they discover it. We speak to some of Europe’s leading swine influenza experts about how intensive factory farming is creating the perfect conditions for another swine flu outbreak, and what they’re doing to try and stop it. Read our piece on why swine flu is still with us.

Monkeys in South America

Although there is a yellow fever vaccine, the disease infects some 200,000 people and kills 30,000 of them each year – more than terrorist attacks and plane crashes combined. As humans encroach onto Brazil’s forests, outbreaks are on the rise. Scientists fear yellow fever may now be jumping from humans to monkeys and back. They’ve taken on a vaccination programme for monkeys in the hopes of saving humans from a dangerous disease. Read our piece on why yellow fever remains a threat.

Possums in Australia  

The Buruli ulcer originated in Uganda and in recent years has found its way to Australia. Classified as a “neglected” international disease, it has little money or research behind it. We meet the scientists scrambling to understand the role possums and humans play in spreading this flesh-eating bacteria, and whether it’s likely to advance more widely across the continent. Read our piece on the flesh-eating disease carried by possums.

Watch:

What will the next pandemic be?

Seventy-five percent of the newly emerging diseases currently affecting humans originate in animals. In the first of a three-part video series on BBC Reel, we meet leading scientists from who are working on the next big threats, from Mers in camels in Africa to Nipah virus in bats in Asia. We’ll learn about the diseases they focus their time and effort on and why they might cause the next pandemic. Watch our video on what could cause the next pandemic

Is the next pandemic inevitable?

Bats harbour hundreds of diseases that can be harmful to humans, as do pigs, birds and boar. So it’s their fault right? Wrong. In the final episode we speak to our scientists and experts about how human activity has caused disease in the past, and how we’re creating more opportunities every day for a spillover. Watch our video on whether the next pandemic is inevitable.

How do we stop it?

In this episode, we will look at the work taking place to detect viruses and stop them before they spill over. From surveilling bats in Cambodia to see how far and where they fly each night, to testing out vaccine candidates on wild boar in Germany, we learn about the global collaborations taking place and hear from the individuals working to avoid the next pandemic. Watch our video on how we can stop the next pandemic.

* This series was reported, written and produced by Harriet Constable and Jacob Kushner. It was edited by Amanda Ruggeri. Reporting for this series was supported with funding from the Pulitzer Center.

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