THE world is at risk of a far worse pandemic than Covid "on the scale of the Black Death", warn experts.
Deadly microbes which have jumped from animals into humans could "kill tens of millions of people" they terrifyingly add.
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Environmental writer John Vidal, who is working on a book revealing the links between nature and disease, has published his dire prediction in the Daily Mail.
He says that governments must face up to "the nightmare scenario" of new diseases – or a new, more lethal strain of an older one – emerging "which is as contagious as measles, and as deadly as Ebola".
Given the popularity of air travel and global trade, a virus could rampage across the world, unknowingly spread by asymptomatic carriers, "in a few weeks, killing tens of millions of people before borders could be closed", he adds.
Delia Grace Randolph, co-leader of animal and human health at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, told him: "I think we will get a wave of new zoonotic diseases (spread between animals and people) emerging, a mixture of old and new ones."
Randolph pointed out that animals "have thousands of viruses", with people aware of the origins of Ebola and avian flu.
But, she warned, other viruses will pop up, with the "worst possibly yet to come" after the Covid pandemic – which has already killed more than 2.3million victims worldwide.
She blame the emergence of deadly crossover bugs on destruction of animals' natural wildlife habitat, as displaced creatures are forced to "eke out resources in a human situation [and] you get diseases".
Ecologists at University College London (UCL) report that, since 1940, 335 new and potentially fatal diseases have emerged globally, Vidal explains.
More than 200 are zoonoses, viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and prions which occur naturally in wild and domesticated animals but are jumping species to hit humans.
John Hopkins Medicine says prion diseases can affect both humans and animals and are sometimes spread to humans by infected meat products.
The most common form of prion disease that affects people is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).
Vidal points out that deadly diseases crossing species include "HIV, Ebola, Lassa Fever, Marburg and Simian foamy virus in Africa; Sars and Covid-19 in China; Chagas, Machupo and Hantavirus in Latin America; Hendra in Australia, and Mers in Saudi Arabia".
"Any one of them can mutate and potentially devastate human populations," the writer warns.
Brit ecologist Peter Daszak, now in Wuhan as part of the World Health Organisation team investigating the Covid outbreak, said the combination of population expansion and environmental destruction was to blame.
He said: "Rampant deforestation, intensive farming, mining… as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a 'perfect storm' for the spill-over of diseases."
Josef Settele, biologist and co-author of a new UN-level study on future pandemics, told Vidal: "Covid-19 may be only the beginning.
"Future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently, spread more rapidly, have greater economic impact and kill more people if we are not extremely careful about the possible impacts of the choices we make today."
Vidal asks readers: "When will we really wake up to the greatest new threat of our age?
"Mankind has changed its relationship with both wild and farmed animals, destroying their habitats and crowding them together – and the process… is only accelerating.
"If we fail to appreciate the seriousness of the situation, this present pandemic may be only a precursor to something far graver still."
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