Protecting Wildlife Protects Us Too

Dovie Salais

The St. Louis Zoo, in collaboration with the Living Earth Collaborative, is hosting a webinar Tuesday called “How Protecting Wildlife Can Help to Prevent Pandemics.” The organizations aim to spread awareness about diseases transmitted from animals to humans and how increased human connections and encounters with animals in the wild […]

The St. Louis Zoo, in collaboration with the Living Earth Collaborative, is hosting a webinar Tuesday called “How Protecting Wildlife Can Help to Prevent Pandemics.” The organizations aim to spread awareness about diseases transmitted from animals to humans and how increased human connections and encounters with animals in the wild increase rates of transmission.

“As the coronavirus pandemic illustrates, the fate of humanity and nature are inextricably linked,” explains the event’s Facebook page. “COVID-19 is just the latest of several zoonotic diseases to emerge in recent decades as a result of detrimental human-induced environmental changes to the planet, and if we don’t change the way we treat nature, it won’t be the last.”

One of the panelists is David Wang, a Washington University professor who researches the identification and characterization of novel and emerging viruses. Wang joined St. Louis on the Air to explain how diseases arise in nature and jump to humans, like what happened with COVID-19.

“We know now that there are many viruses that are probably capable of jumping to humans, and we should use that information in a proactive way to guide many aspects of the response,” Wang said.

He referenced parallels between the current coronavirus threat and the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in the early 2000s, as well as the Middle East respiratory syndrome–related coronavirus (MERS) that popped up in 2012.

“It would be ideal to have some kind of pan-coronavirus vaccine or pan-coronavirus therapeutic drug that could be ready and available the next time something like this happens,” he said. “Because it’s happened three times in 17 years, it seems pretty likely that it’s going to happen again in the future. And the question will be, how much more prepared would we be for the fourth emerging coronavirus?”

Wang is a professor of molecular microbiology and pathology and immunology at Washington University School of Medicine. He and other researchers are establishing a new international collaboration that aims to “help scientists prepare for the next pandemic and, perhaps, provide insight into the current one.”

Related Event
What: How Protecting Wildlife can help to Prevent Pandemics webinar
When: 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29
Where: Register via Zoom

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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