“Despite our advancing ability to fight infectious disease epidemics and rapidly identify the microbes that cause them, we should expect new and more frequent epidemics as human populations get bigger and better connected,” says Professor Eddie Holmes, who will speak at the University of Sydney’s 21st Century Medicine Series on Wednesday 17th September.
“When humans made the shift from hunter-gatherer to an agricultural society they created the first big opportunity for the rise and spread of infectious diseases in humans,” says Holmes, an evolutionary biologist who has studied viruses and other microbes for over 20 years.
“As we settled in large villages and began living closely with farming animals we optimised the conditions for viruses and bacteria to move from animals to humans.
Epidemics like the plague, Ebola, and the avian flu are examples of deadly diseases that jumped the species boundary from animals to humans.
“Fast forward to the 21st century, with its megacities, factory-farmed animals, and millions of people jetting around the world daily and nowhere is safe – not even a relatively isolated place like Australia.”
Originally trained as an anthropologist – his doctoral research focused on the evolutionary history of human populations – Professor Holmes first got hooked on viruses during a postdoctoral post at the University of California, Davis.
Since then he has expanded his research to include important human and animal virus such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C, yellow fever, dengue, rabies, bat lyssaviruses and influenza.
“Whether a virus can jump species depends on the interplay between ecology and genetics,” says Holmes, whose recent work reveals the basic ground rules of disease emergence.
As an example of such a rule, Holmes says we’re more vulnerable to viruses from other mammals rather than plants because we have similar cells – a subject explored in frightening detail by author David Quammen, in Spillover.
Professor Holmes says that a globally connected surveillance and response network with rapid access to shared data, clear national response protocols, and the capacity to rapidly coordinate and deploy appropriate infection control resources, provides the best option to protect against pandemic disease.
Talk details: Is a new pandemic inevitable?
Date: Wednesday 17 September
Time: 6pm to 7.30pm
Where: Charles Perkins Centre Auditorium, The University of Sydney
Media enquiries: Dan Gaffney 048 100 4782, [email protected]