The next pandemic could be insect-borne disease, WHO warns risk of a new arbovirus outbreak is ‘increasing’

World Health Organization has sounded the alarm on the next potential pandemic – which could be spread by insects.

On Thursday, the WHO launched the Global Arbovirus Initiative in an effort to implement an “integrated strategic plan to tackle emerging and re-emerging arboviruses with epidemic and pandemic potential focusing on monitoring risk, pandemic prevention, preparedness, detection and response, and building a coalition of partners.”

The WHO warns that risks of a new insect-borne outbreak is “increasing.”

“The next pandemic could, very likely, be due to a new arbovirus,” Dr. Sylvie Briand – director of the global infectious hazard preparedness team at the WHO – said on Thursday. “And we also have some signals that the risk is increasing.”

Arboviruses are also known as arthropod-borne viruses – which means pathogens that are spread by arthropods that feed on blood like mosquitoes, ticks, sand flies, and midges. There are reportedly over 600 known arboviruses, of which more than 130 arboviruses are known to cause human disease.

Arboviruses include pathogens such as Zika, yellow fever, Chikungunya, dengue, and West Nile virus infection.

The dengue virus is spread to humans through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that approximately half of the world’s population live in areas with a risk of dengue. The WHO reported, “The number of dengue cases reported to WHO increased over 8 fold over the last two decades, from 505,430 cases in 2000, to over 2.4 million in 2010, and 5.2 million in 2019.”

Since 2016, more than 89 countries have experienced Zika outbreaks, according to the Daily Mail.

WebMD reported, “The World Health Organization estimates there are 200,000 cases of yellow fever worldwide each year, resulting in 30,000 deaths. Yellow fever appears to be on the rise internationally due to a decreased immunity to infection among local populations, deforestation, climate change, and high-density urbanization.”

“The frequency and magnitude of outbreaks of these arboviruses, particularly those transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, are increasing globally, fueled by the convergence of ecologic, economic, and social factors,” the WHO said on Thursday.

“We have been through two years of COVID-19 pandemic and we have learned the hard way what [it costs] not to be prepared for high impact events,” Briand stated at the launch of the Global Integrated Arboviruses Initiative. “We had [a] signal with Sars in 2003 and the experience of the influenza 2009 pandemic – but there were still gaps in our preparedness.”

According to the Telegraph, clinical scientist Dr. Jeremy Farrar said, “These diseases are diseases of our time” that are driven by “things of the 21st century,” such as climate change, urbanization, and globalization.

Dr. Ren Minghui – assistant director-general of the WHO – cautioned, “As urban populations continue to expand, the threat of these diseases grows more alarming. As close living arrangements amplify the spread of this virus, we must address these challenges now to prevent catastrophic impact on health systems in the future.”

Dr. Mike Ryan – head of the WHO’s Emergency Program – said, “For each of these diseases there have been gains in different aspects of surveillance response, research and development. But sustainability is often limited to the scope and duration and scope of disease-specific projects. There is an urgent need to re-evaluate the tools at hand and how these can be used across diseases to ensure efficient response, evidence-based practice, equipped and trained personnel and engagement of communities.”