Social Innovation to Curb Zoonotic Diseases

By Hubert Yoshida posted 11-20-2020 00:00

As we enter the coming holiday season, the world is in the second phase of the COVID-19 epidemic. It has been nearly a year that we have been living under the restrictions imposed to contain this epidemic. The good news is that several vaccines have been developed that will soon be available to protect us from this scourge so we can resume our normal lives. Unfortunately, the scientists tell us that this event could happen again, and the likelihood of it occurring is increasing. 

COVID-19 is known as a zoonotic disease. A zoonotic disease is an infectious disease that transfers from the animal world to humans due to mutations that cross over the normal immune barriers between the human and animal species. It can be spread directly or indirectly through intermediate vectors like mosquitos or ticks. The zoonotic pathogens range from viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi to prions which are a type of protein that can trigger normal proteins in the brain to fold abnormally and cause things like “mad cow disease”. Zoonotic diseases are increasing and up to 76% of emerging infectious diseases in recent years have been zoonotic in nature, including SARS, MERS, and HIV/AIDs. The chances of more zoonotic diseases in the future seems to be increasing.

Zoonotic diseases can be linked to climate change. Increasing land temperatures mean an increase in population and activity of transmission vectors like mosquitos, fleas, ticks and mice. Warmer climates and decreasing snowfall, removes the protective environment provided by snow and rodents and fleas seek shelter within human habitats, increasing the transmission of hantavirus, as seen in Scandinavia. Rising sea temperatures mean melting glaciers and rising sea levels, which leads to coastal flooding and water borne zoonotic diseases. Drought and deforestation changes the habitat and food sources for animals causing changes in diet and health. The concentration and comingling of species increases the risk of cross contamination.

During the current COVID crisis, there have been reported cases of pets like cats and dogs being infected with COVID, but the doctors say that we cannot be infected by them. Since dogs are a part of my family, that would be a real problem if they had to be separated from us. However, we need to monitor their health and I am happy to know that Hitachi makes diagnostic equipment like CT scanners for veterinary use. 

The effects of climate change are predicted to be worse for the developing world where challenging socioeconomic and political environments are compounded by a lack of epidemiological studies on zoonotic diseases. Combating climate change is a key tool in reducing the threat of future out breaks like COVID-19.

Social innovation is not only about the health and welfare of people but must also include the animal world, because we are all inter-related. Reducing global warming, preserving the environment, and monitoring the health and welfare of all living things must be a part of our social innovation efforts.