Outbreaks of the Ebola virus, monkeypox, and other diseases caused by animal-to-human infection in Africa have spiked by 63% across the last decade, much of that rise occurring in 2019 and 2020 alone.
That’s according to a new analysis from the World Health Organization that compares the decade between 2012 and 2022 with a previous decade from 2001 to 2011. Across the entire span, there were 1,843 recorded public health events, with 30% attributed to zoonotic diseases.
“While these numbers have increased over the past two decades, there was a particular spike in 2019 and 2020 when zoonotic pathogens represented around 50% of public health events,” said WHO in a statement.
About 70% of the outbreaks were caused by viral hemorrhagic fevers, Ebola among them, while monkeypox, dengue fever, anthrax and other diseases made up the remaining 30%.
WHO said the recent rise in monkeypox cases, primarily in Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, may in part be a function of better reporting mechanisms. But the overall rise in animal-to-human disease transmission is likely caused by several other reasons.
“Africa has the world’s fastest-growing population and there is a growing demand for food derived from animals including meat, poultry, eggs, and milk,” WHO said, discussing one transmission route.
Increases and improved access to travel make it easier for infections to spread beyond the places where they originate. And the growing population, especially in cities, is changing the boundaries of animal-human interface.
WHO officials say more research is needed to understand the transmission patterns, as well as an “all hands on deck” approach from across scientific disciplines to identify how factors like nutrition and antimicrobial resistance affect it.
Image: WHO file