On May 13th, 2022, the first case of monkeypox in this recent outbreak was reported. Since, over a thousand people in 31 countries have been reported as infected with the virus. (The New York Times) For a world still recovering from a society-changing pandemic, and still mourning those lost to COVID-19, this news is an unwelcome wakeup call to what could be another example of a zoonotic spillover event causing mass devastation.
Monkeypox, a cousin of smallpox, differs from COVID-19 in that it is not novel. First identified in humans in 1970, the virus has been mostly relegated to western Africa, with outbreaks in other places being attributed to international travel. What makes this outbreak so concerning are the simultaneous waves of diagnosis of the virus in different corners of the world. As well as how this disease seems to have spread despite all the measures put in place during COVID to specifically prevent disease spread.
However, should we have seen this coming? A 2021 analysis of the reemergence of monkeypox in Nigeria between 2017 and 2020 cites the increased interaction of humans and animals as the culprit of the increased presence of the disease. Deforestation, violent conflicts, and population migration are also contributing factors. (Nguyen) With relative confidence that COVID-19 came from a Wuhan fish market, (NPR) the global community must ask the question- how do we track and prevent zoonotic spillover events from happening?
Zoonotic spillover events require pathogens to survive a breadth of barriers before infecting humans. With a new landscape of climate change, land-use and management practices, and other drivers intensifying the chances for contact between animals and humans, the zoonotic spillover phenomenon is changing. Understanding historical connections between human behavior and animal behavior and zoonotic spillover is a tool, but if the recent monkeypox outbreak teaches us anything, it’s that human attention and analysis is not enough to stop a zoonotic spillover event.
The answer lies in predictive analytics, powered by geospatial data.
By taking a variety of factors into account, such as biodiversity of an area, climate change effects, animal and human population density, deforestation, and human/animal proximity, we are able to form machine learning models that analyze existing outbreaks of infectious disease as well as predict where the next spillover event could occur. If we know what regions are susceptible to a spillover event, governments, public health officials, and other organizations can focus resources in those areas for enhanced disease surveillance that would prevent isolated spillover events from becoming potentially epidemic or pandemic-level outbreaks.
HSR.health is utilizing its artfully designed data models, with diverse and copious amounts of data to analyze zoonotic spillover outbreaks and help prevent the next one. We aim to provide actionable solutions and guidance for predicting and mitigating spillover events, saving lives in the process.
Mandavilli, Apoorva, Monkeypox Can Be Airborne, Too, New York Times, June 07, 2022.
Nguyen, Phi-Yen et al. “Reemergence of Human Monkeypox and Declining Population Immunity in the Context of Urbanization, Nigeria, 2017-2020.” Emerging infectious diseases vol. 27,4 (2021): 1007–1014. doi:10.3201/eid2704.203569.