Virus hunter Nathan Wolfe is outwitting the next pandemic by staying two steps ahead: discovering deadly new viruses where they first emerge — passing from animals to humans among poor subsistence hunters in Africa — before they claim millions of lives.

I would be very interested in your opinion on this.


  1. #1 zayzayem
    March 31, 2009

    I was a bit worried at first, until he showed monitoring stations being set up in East and SE Asia, and plans for South America and other hotspots.

    Good ideas at work.

    Can this monitoring system learn from, or even educate to, existing monitoring methods in domestic and produce animal-human contact (farming, zoos, wildlife rescue)?

    Question: Once they’ve identified the new viruses, how do they then identify which ones present a threat as a potential human pathogen? (similarity to existing human pathogens? exploitation of certain pathways?)

  2. #2 Jeremy
    March 31, 2009

    Very interesting talk. I guess this is one of those cases where somebody might be saving humanity, but we’ll never know it.

    I would like to hear practical solutions to bush meat.

  3. #3 TonyC
    March 31, 2009

    Interesting – but it almost seems to me that we’re using these poor folks as guinea pigs. However I don’t think there is any immediate alternative – these are the people on the front line. At least his work is providing some care for these people, albeit with a selfish motive.

    IMHO the only way to mitigate this behavior (and presumably reduce the incidence of viral transfer) would be provision of a viable replacement for bush meat (and, as Jeremy said, that really needs a solution).

    Unfortunately – the hunting of bush meat is not only for protein. It’s also a ‘totem’ for gaining status. That sociological/cultural issue needs to be resolved first, otherwise it will never stop. In light of that reality, ‘front line’ identification/sequestration procedures can never be 100%.

    I wonder, in that case, if this is simply palliative: it keeps us in the west somewhat safer, but does nothing to change the root behavior responsible for the viral transfer in the first place.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    March 31, 2009

    I would like to point out that in the absence of an external market draw and in the absence of population-density increasers (like plantations) the bushmeat turnover in the Ituri and probably elsewhere is pretty stable. The people who live there in the traditional mode of life can draw bushmeat out of the forest in a sustainable way.

    So the issue of the cultural side is tied up in this. Indeed, the bushmeat in this cultural context is NOT the bushmeat that is sold on the market, at least in the ituri, as far as I know. which is what we’d expect.

  5. #5 zayzayem
    April 7, 2009

    I don’t think a purely observational/surveillence strategy should be considered as guinea pigs. Guinea pigs, to me, suggests trialing some sort of intervention or change to business-as-usual.

    Perhaps “canaries” (as in coal mining) is a bit more apt. If we understand that hunting bushmeat is an actively risky lifestyle (for the individual, their community, and the global community) – are we doing enough to discourage it?