Dr. Fauci and his colleague David Morens have published a thoughtful paper putting the current pandemic in perspective – and a warning. The paper, “Emerging Pandemic Diseases: How We Got to COVID-19” was published last month in the prestigious journal Cell
In addition to being a short history of pandemics and a tutorial on infectious diseases, it clearly places the COVID-19 pandemic (and the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the illness) in the context of the broader interaction between humans and nature. As such, their analysis offers a grave warning for the future:
SARS-CoV-2 is a deadly addition to the long list of microbial threats to the human species. It forces us to adapt, react, and reconsider the nature of our relationship to the natural world. Emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases are epiphenomena of human existence and our interactions with each other, and with nature. As human societies grow in size and complexity, we create an endless variety of opportunities for genetically unstable infectious agents to emerge into the unfilled ecologic niches we continue to create. There is nothing new about this situation, except that we now live in a human-dominated world in which our increasingly extreme alterations of the environment induce increasingly extreme backlashes from nature.
Science will surely bring us many life-saving drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics; however, there is no reason to think that these alone can overcome the threat of ever more frequent and deadly emergences of infectious diseases. Evidence suggests that SARS, MERS, and COVID-19 are only the latest examples of a deadly barrage of coming coronavirus and other emergences. The COVID-19 pandemic is yet another reminder, added to the rapidly growing archive of historical reminders, that in a human-dominated world, in which our human activities represent aggressive, damaging, and unbalanced interactions with nature, we will increasingly provoke new disease emergences. We remain at risk for the foreseeable future. COVID-19 is among the most vivid wake-up calls in over a century. It should force us to begin to think in earnest and collectively about living in more thoughtful and creative harmony with nature, even as we plan for nature’s inevitable, and always unexpected, surprises. [emphasis added]
In other words, we will continue to be a risk from new infectious diseases long after the current pandemic is gone — due to our own behavior toward nature.
You can’t say we haven’t been warned.