Press "Enter" to skip to content

Kevin Dalby, UT Austin Professor, Discusses Future Management of Viral Diseases

The world is still battling with the COVID-19 pandemic, but people are already worried about what disease will pop up next. As Dr. Kevin Dalby explains, the current pandemic has opened the eyes of many to how viral diseases can, and should, be managed in the future.

Scientists worldwide are working to stop the spread of many infectious diseases. But, as they do so — through mitigation recommendations and prevention through vaccines — there is much that can be done now to prepare for the successful future management of viral infections.

Preserve Forests

A big part of managing future viral diseases is to reduce deforestation. Every year for the last 100 years, two new viruses that originate in animals have emerged. Many scientists believe this will grow exponentially in the following years.

The culprit of this problem, according to many, is deforestation. Studies published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information have found that changes in land use such as agricultural expansion or development are the most significant driver of new diseases emerging from wildlife.

Reducing deforestation won’t just positively impact the future management of viral diseases. It’ll also help improve air quality across the globe.

Detect Viruses Early

The earlier viruses can be detected, the better their spread can be prevented. The first COVID-19 case was detected on the last day of 2019 in China, but research revealed the virus spread rapidly through Wuhan at least a month prior.

Had COVID-19 been detected earlier, it’s possible measures could have been taken to stop the spread. In today’s global economy, early detection of viruses has become ultra-important, as people travel all over the world frequently. As a result, viruses can more easily spread from one country to the next than they could have even 30 years ago.

The EcoHealth Alliance says that humans’ exposure to zoonotic diseases is widely underreported. Expanded surveillance programs to countries worldwide can help prevent viral diseases from spreading. Doing so, though, would take a significant monetary investment.

Limit the Trade of Wildlife

Two recent viral diseases — SARS and COVID-19 — are both considered zoonotic illnesses, and they likely hopped from animal to human because of the global trade of wild animals.

According to Global Financial Integrity, the trade of global wildlife is estimated to be worth $23 billion annually. This means it’ll take a lot to curb the practice since so many are profiting significantly from it.

Dr. Kevin Dalby says that banning the trade of certain species of animals prone to spreading viral diseases is an excellent first step. This would include pangolins and bats.

But, enacting international and national trade bans on wild animals is only the start. Countries and organizations have to work hard to enforce the bans and stop the wildlife trade so that managing future viral diseases is something within reach.

About Dr. Kevin Dalby

Dr. Kevin Dalby is a professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry, currently working on cancer drug discovery. At the College of Pharmacy at The University of Texas, he examines the mechanisms of nature and cancer to develop new treatments and teach and motivate students to conduct research. Dalby is optimistic about the future of cancer treatments.