More than a year after COVID-19 began spreading in China, an international team of investigators is in Wuhan, trying to figure out where the virus originated.
It’s a secret mission, but it’s one that experts say is critical.
A year into the pandemic, and there’s still so much we don’t know.
“This really is detective work- and that means you use every tool at your disposal and that includes genomic epidemiology because there are signs in the genome itself in the genetic fingerprint of the virus that helps us understand where it might have originated but the challenge is that you’re looking for the missing link,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives.
You might recognize his name from his former role.
“I started Resolve after leaving two terms as CDC director to help reduce the risk of pandemics and promote cardiovascular health globally.”
Lately, their work involves COVID.
Turns out, this current pandemic is just a precursor to what’s coming.
“They are going to keep coming and it’s very important that we learn lessons of how diseases emerge and take steps to cut that off, so it doesn’t happen again,” Dr. Frieden said.
This is why that World Health Organization investigation is crucial.
“How did it jump that barrier from animals to people and second could there have been a laboratory error involved was there sometime where it was in a laboratory and mistakenly let out,” Dr. Frieden said. “That’s happened before in 2003 and 2004 when the SARS epidemic hit there was a laboratory accident in China, in Beijing that resulted in a small cluster of cases.”
Dr. Tracey McNamara said we need to start by leaving wildlife alone.
Setting major boundaries between growing populations and animals.
McNamara is a veterinary pathology professor at Western University of Health Sciences in Southern California.
She was influential in the discovery of the West Nile Outbreak.
“COVID-19 is a zoonotic threat meaning it’s related to animals,” Dr. McNamara said. “They’re saying it’s related to a bat virus and what the world has to deal with is we haven’t been very good at detecting these emerging pandemic threats in animal reservoirs prior to spillovers into human populations.”
Dr. McNamara said the government programs we have just aren’t good enough.
We need better public health programs, a better connection between veterinary and human medicine.
“You can’t expect things to change if you don’t put your money where your mouth is and increase the ability to detect these diseases in animals before we have sick people,” Dr. McNamara said.
In the meantime, Dr. Frieden said that we have to get stronger at both protecting the animal world and protecting us from it.
“We need to reduce the risk of a laboratory error that might allow a dangerous pathogen into the environment,” Dr. Frieden said. “We also need to look at what we’ve learned during this pandemic.”
What’s gone right, and what’s gone wrong- to help our changing world get ready for what might be next.