Amazon could be next virus hot zone: scientist

The next pandemic could come from the Amazon rainforest, warns Brazilian ecologist David Lapola, who says human encroachment on animals' habitats -- a likely culprit in the coronavirus outbreak -- is soaring there because of rampant deforestation, AFP reports.

Researchers say the urbanization of once-wild areas contributes to the emergence of zoonotic diseases -- those that pass from animals to humans.

That includes the new coronavirus, which scientists believe originated in bats before passing to humans in China's rapidly urbanizing Hubei province, probably via a third species.

Lapola, 38, who studies how human activity will reshape the future ecosystems of tropical forests, says the same processes are in play in the Amazon.

"The Amazon is a huge reservoir of viruses," he told AFP in an interview.

"We'd better not try our luck."

The world's biggest rainforest is disappearing at an alarming rate.

Last year, in far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's first year in office, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon surged 85 percent, to more than 10,000 square kilometers (3,900 square miles) -- an area nearly the size of Lebanon.

The trend is continuing this year. From January to April, 1,202 square kilometers were wiped out, setting a new record for the first four months of the year, according to data based on satellite images from Brazil's National Space Research Institute (INPE).

That is bad news, not just for the planet but for human health, said Lapola, who holds a PhD in earth system modeling from the Max Planck Institutes in Germany and works at the University of Campinas in Brazil.

"When you create ecological disequilibrium... that's when a virus can jump" from animals to humans, he said.


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