Thousands of people may be infected by Coronaviruses carried by animals every year. A study suggested that China and Southeast Asia may be seeing an average of 400,000 spillover events that could potentially lead to a pandemic.
The study points to occurrences of COVID like pandemics in the future given the present situation where innumerable outbreaks of seemingly innocuous infections.
The study also said that the next pandemic like situation can be avoided if these small infections have been controlled at the individual level.
Most of these infections are unrecognised due to mild or no symptoms. They are also not transmitted easily between people. But, each spillover event represents the opportunity for viral adaptation that could cause a worldwide outbreak, reported Bloomberg.
Researchers with the EcoHealth Alliance and Singapore's Duke-NUS Medical School are building evidence that bats are the main host animals for viruses like SARS-CoV-2 and people living near them are especially vulnerable to infections.
Edward Holmes, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Sydney, said that this is probably the first attempt to estimate how often people are infected with SARS-related coronaviruses from bats. "Humans are continually exposed to bat coronaviruses. Given the right set of circumstances, one of these could eventually lead to an outbreak," he added.
The study has mapped southern China, parts of Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, and Indonesia to be riskiest for spillovers. Researchers have found almost two dozen bat species in this area of Asia that can be infected by coronaviruses.
Peter Daszak and colleagues state that the approach may also aid efforts to identify the geographic sites where spillover first occurred. The approach provides a strategy to identify key geographic areas that can be prioritized for targeted surveillance of wildlife, livestock, and humans reported Bloomberg.
The study has been criticised by those who argue that the coronavirus was created by Chinese scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. There has been no evidence to support this theory.