More Covid like diseases likely as more forest habitats are turned into farm lands

Man is increasingly converting the forests into agriculture lands. Men venture into the forests for food while animals venture out of the forests looking for food in the crop fields. The result is more interaction between the two and higher the chances of zoonotic — or animal-to-human — disease. So, the diseases like Covid-19 may become more common, warn the studies.

The analysis by Standford, published in Landscape Ecology, shows a relationship between the current behaviour of the people who continue to transform natural habitats into farm lands.

It showed how the loss of tropical forests in Uganda put people at greater risk of physical interactions with wild primates and the viruses they carry, suggesting the possibility of emergence and spread of infectious animal-to-human diseases in other parts of the world.

“At a time when COVID-19 is causing an unprecedented level of economic, social and health devastation, it is essential that we think critically about how human behaviors increase our interactions with disease-infected animals,” said study lead author Laura Bloomfield, an MD student in the School of Medicine and a PhD candidate in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources within Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. “The combination of major environmental change, like deforestation, and poverty can spark the fire of a global pandemic.”

People have converted nearly half of the world’s land into agriculture. Tropical forests have suffered the most, with some of the highest rates of agricultural conversion over the last few decades.

When people venture into forested areas for resources and when animals venture out of their habitats to raid crops, the chances increase for transmission of zoonotic — or animal-to-human — disease. A prime example is HIV, which is caused by a virus that jumped from wild primates to humans via infected bodily fluids.

“We humans go to these animals,” study co-author Eric Lambin, the George and Setsuko Ishiyama Provostial Professor in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. “We are forcing the interaction through transformation of the land.”

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