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The 1 Word You Must Know...in 100 Words


I predict that zoonoses will overtake climate change--or least match it--as the leading existential threat to humanity. Z-o-o-n-o-s-e-s. Say it with me. Zoonoses (pronounced "zoo-oh-KNOW-sees") has already captivated our attention, forcing Australian forest fires, punishing droughts, and Hurricane Sandy to the back of the crisis-line. Coronavirus is a zoonotic disease so are 60% of infectious diseases that have killed over 30 million people (mostly due to HIV) since the 1980s including:

  • MERS

  • SARS

  • Ebola

  • Avian Flu

  • HIV

  • West Nile

  • Even the common influenza is zoonotic

I submit to you this: you need to understand zoonoses. I can prove that by asking you this: what do you think about someone who doesn't know about or understand climate change? You think they are out of touch, head in the sand, maybe a little uninformed. And in business, such ignorance in a potential new hire would be too great a risk. Maybe get a job with our competitor!

You need to understand zoonoses. Such diseases are becoming more prevalent and presenting an increasing risk to our economy, our health and our future. Coronavirus is not some random event; it is part of a pattern. Sorry but you have to revisit your strategic plan, your supply chain and sourcing strategies, your sustainability reports, and your partnerships. You need to update your syllabus and your reading list. You have done this for climate change. Prepare to do the same with zoonoses. Get ready to calculate your zoonotic footprint and disclose zoonotic risk to investors. (Tweet that!)

100 Words on This Very Important Word: Zoonoses

What is zoonoses?

Zoonoses: "diseases or infections that are naturally transmissible from animals to humans. Zoonoses may be bacterial, viral, or parasitic." (World Health Organization)

"Scientists estimate that more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals." (Centers for Disease Control)

Why is this an increasing issue just like climate change?

When we cut down and inhabit and put roads through ecologically rich areas we unleash and shake out of the ecosystems viruses and pathogens that we have never known before. Under normal ecological conditions these viruses are held in balance with their host and other predators. We have unsettled the balance. They are coming for us like is some sci-fy movie. In fact, it's more like we are coming for them.

-My summary after reading Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen, contributing writer for National Geographic (among other publications)

To be at least conversational in zoonoses, impress your colleagues and increase your value, watch this talk by David Quammen...it's just 14 mins and very good.

Do you have a favorite resource for learning about zoonoses? Leave in the comments below.

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