To prevent the evolution of another viral illness such as the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) there is an unmistakable need for viruses which originate in animals to be studied, especially in Trinidad and Tobago where there is a culture of eating "wild meat" and with a significant portion of the population living within close proximity to forested areas.
This is the sentiment of Professor in Veterinary Virology of the School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM), UWI Dr Christopher Oura at an education forum for medical practitioners hosted by the T&T Medical Association on the Covid-19 sweeping the Chinese mainland and now penetrating 25 other countries.
The Covid-19, up to yesterday, infected 51,857 people globally and killed 1,666 in mainland China and is believed to be a zoonotic disease originating in a live market in Wuhan within the Hubei province.
However, officials and scientists are still trying to pinpoint which animal it originated and mutated in. And according to Dr Oura in his presentation to the practitioners: "three out of four new and emerging viruses in humans have come through animals."
"This is one of the things we need to take seriously to understand the baseline of which viruses are present in our animals and our wildlife...it is only by understanding the baseline - what you have - you can then follow through whether there's a risk of these viruses jumping species (like the Covid-19 did)," Dr Oura told Guardian Media.
Currently, he said, the SVM is conducting research into this area and of particular concern are influenza type viruses.
"There are influenza viruses in pigs...in cattle...in horses and in humans and they have the propensity (tendency) to change because of the nature of how they mutate. We have influenza viruses in Trinidad...but we have to keep a very close eye on them to know how they've changed and whether they've changed."
Oura also indicated that the illegal importation of animals as is often done from South America through Venezuela also puts the country at risk.
"There is a danger that those types of viruses would be brought across through the illegal transport of animals and we all of a sudden get them in Trinidad," he said.
He stressed the need to monitor animals as oftentimes, the mutations to the virus occur while it is in them. He told the practitioners during his presentation that it's at this stage the viruses needed to be combated and stompped out. He cited that the economic and social costs would be less at this stage compared to when it becomes transmittable to humans.
Oura, however, noted "we have been looking and we don't have any dangerous influenza viruses in Trinidad like in China...but we need to keep constant surveillance for them"
Oura is a qualified veterinary surgeon with a PhD in Viral Immunology an d has many years research experience working predominantly on vector-borne viral and protozoal diseases. He has worked in several countries around the world and began working in T&T in 2012. In 2017, he received the UWI Vice Chancellor award for his research.