David Quammen speaks, the man who predicted the pandemic: 'Now the risk is bird flu'

The next pandemic will come from the sky. The visionary author of Spillover, the bestseller that told the story of the spread of the coronavirus years in advance, warns against the planetary virus that is exterminating millions of birds. Unheard, as always

  david-quammen-today-20 Essayist David Quammen, 75 years old

The next pandemic has already begun, he wrote in the New York Times. It's really like this? «The precise term is panzoozia, an epidemic that spreads among animals».

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It refers to H5N1, the avian flu virus… «For two years he has been exterminating the birds of the planet, and beyond. It is very contagious, and is already affecting some species of mammals. Foxes, dolphins, bears, sea lions».

In Italy he has massacred seagulls on Lake Garda and Iseo. There have been outbreaks in intensive chicken farms in all regions of the North. In the world there are talks of 200 million infected animals. But so far there hasn't been spillover , the leap of species.
David Quammen, the author of the bestseller of the same name (published in Italy by Adelphi, with 17 reprints) who predicted the outbreak of a coronavirus pandemic eight years in advance, smiles. We're on Skype and Quammen is in his studio in Bozeman, Montana. Behind him we can see a python crawling on the bookcase: it's Boots, the snake adopted four years ago by the writer and his wife, Betsy Gaines. 'I let him go free, he's very shy and kind, and sometimes he hides for hours among the shelves,' he justifies himself.

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He recently drew attention to those warning signs that indicate how the avian flu virus is exploring new ways of spreading. «The latest cases of contagion of animals and humans ( 9 in the last 12 months, including an 11-year-old girl who died last February in Cambodia , ed) reveal a pattern that repeats itself: the H5N1 virus is able to occasionally make species jumps, and also manages to spread to a limited extent in the new population'.

However, none of the infected became patient zero. Until now… “It's like roulette: if you bet a chip on red 13, your chances of hitting it are very small. But if you bet a hundred or a thousand times on the same number, then your chances of winning are multiplied. The more infections increase, the greater the mutations of the virus and therefore also the risk that it becomes a threat to human beings. Each mutation is a new spin of roulette. In poultry and turkey farms there are already outbreaks ».

On our planet, 8 billion humans live with 33 billion chickens. Isn't this overcrowding, exasperated by the logic of industrial production, at the origin of every pandemic? «There is not only avian flu, we have so many different viruses that are coming into contact with us, and each species is a carrier of its own. It is not said that they are able to make the leap of species and infect us, there is always an element of causality, but the possibility exists for every virus ».

For more than twenty years she has been researching and writing about fevers and viral infections, AIDS, Ebola, Sars, Covid. Hasn't this constant confrontation with the disease, especially after the experience of the last three years, changed you? “I didn't become a hypochondriac, if that's what you mean. I spent the lockdown closed in this studio working on my latest book ( Breathless , Adelphi) with interviews with doctors and scientists done via Zoom, instead of in person, since it was not possible to travel. But over time I've found that the more I learn about viruses and the danger they pose, the less I fear them. Viruses don't have infinite capacities to infect and kill us, they have their means of transmission and replication, but also their survival limits.

Have you had Covid? How did she go? “I was sick for two or three days last November. I came back negative after 19 days, and had to cancel all engagements, but never really bothered. My parents are no longer alive, I have a younger wife. I had taken all the precautions, done all the vaccines. And I will continue to make references to each new variant ».

Compared to three years ago, do you think we are better prepared to face a new pandemic? «When they asked me this question, I first answered: I hope we will be, we must be. Now I'm no longer convinced: I see so much confusion around, so much controversy. On the whole. There is distrust of science, resistance to vaccines. Our ability to respond is diminished.'

Already have a new book you're working on? «To dedicate myself to Covid, at the beginning of 2020 I interrupted a research that had brought me to Tasmania. The theme was cancer as an evolutionary phenomenon, the evolutionary biology of tumors. I picked it up.'

An author who inspired you? «I have a literary background and from William Faulkner I learned that there is no single truth. Reality is fragmented and can only be grasped from different points of view. And this has also become my working method».

Source: oggi.it