Covid-19 might have originated in China, but the next pandemic could well start a lot closer to home. The Netherlands is in fact one of the largest hotspots for animal disease outbreaks in the world. International viroscience expert Ron Fouchier discusses how viruses take over the world but also how their spread could be contained.
The Netherlands has a telling history with animal disease outbreaks. The outbreaks of Q fever in 2007 and bird flu in 2003 were the largest outbreaks ever in Europe, and both started here. There were also major incidences of swine fever, BSE (‘gekkekoeienziekte’) and foot-and-mouth disease. Millions of animals had to be put down as a result and thousands of people fell ill.
Influenza viruses always manage to stay one step ahead of human and animal defenses by constantly changing: almost nowhere is evolution as fast as here. Over the past hundred years, this has cost tens of millions of lives. What could we do to reduce the impact of new pandemics, or prevent them from happening all together?
Prof. dr. Ron Fouchier is a professor of molecular virology and deputy head of the department of viroscience at Erasmus MC in Rotterdam. He started his career studying HIV, but later specialized in influenza viruses and is a leading authority in bird flu viruses. With his research groups he studies the ecology and evolution of influenza viruses as well as their public health impact.