UFS researchers warn of bigger pandemics coming

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There will be more pandemics in the future and some scientists feel that the current Covid-19 pandemic, which has already infected more than 16 million people and killed more than 600 000 people worldwide, is only a dress rehearsal for an even bigger pandemic.

Researcher in the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology, Prof. Robert Bragg and Assistant Dean: Natural and Agricultural Sciences and Associate Professor: Zoology and Entomology at the University of the Free State (UFS), Prof. Aliza le Roux, warn about future pandemics.

They say that humans’ interaction with animals and lack of learning from the past are the reasons for this.

According to Prof. Bragg, there will be more pandemics, and there is a feeling among some scientists that this could just be a dress rehearsal for the real big pandemic.

Many virologists, including him, have been predicting an influenza pandemic for many years. He says that mankind has been warned about the coming pandemics for many years, but people seem to want to listen only when they are in the midst of a pandemic.

“The bird-flu virus, Influenza H5N1, has a mortality rate of around 60-65%, but it has not yet developed human-to-human transmission. If this virus does develop human-to-human transmission, we could be in for a really serious pandemic. We need to prepare for the next major pandemic,” he says.

Prof. Le Roux says humans’ need for affordable meat on a regular basis is creating the perfect breeding ground for more diseases. “This means our demand for meat is driving cheaper and less controlled agricultural practices, cramming more animals into smaller spaces, feeding them less and less natural fodder.”

Another researcher and senior lecturer: Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), Dr. Martin Nyaga, says that more viruses are possible in other organisms as well.

“In as much as research on viral particles continues, more outbreaks are possible within not only the coronavirus domain, but also any other class of organisms. The ever-changing nature of viruses, mainly due to mutations and other mechanisms of genetic diversity, could occur through chain of transmission, including via the intermediate hosts,” says Dr. Nyaga.

In this time of Covid-19, the UFS-NGS unit may be involved in proposed consortiums and current partnerships with several national and international organisations undertaking Covid-19 research.

Sazly Hartzenberg

sazly@centralmediagroup.co.za