Amazon could be the origin of the next global pandemic, scientist warns

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The next global pandemic could originate in the Amazon rainforest, according to one environmental expert.

Humanity's encroachment on animal habitats in places such as rainforests is increasing because of widespread deforestation, according to Brazilian ecologist David Lapola.

Scientists believe the urbanization of previously wild areas can contribute to the emergence of zoonotic diseases -- those passing from animals to humans. The new coronavirus, which globally has infected more than 4.5 million and killed at least 306,388, according to John Hopkins University, is thought to have originated in bats before passing to humans in China.

"The Amazon is a huge reservoir of viruses," Lapola, who studies how human activity will reshape the future ecosystems of tropical forests, told AFP in an interview. "We'd better not try our luck."

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This photo released by the Brazilian Environmental and Renewable Natural Resources Institute (Ibama) shows an illegally deforested area on Pirititi indigenous lands as Ibama agents inspect Roraima state in Brazil's Amazon basin.  (Felipe Werneck/Ibama via AP)

This photo released by the Brazilian Environmental and Renewable Natural Resources Institute (Ibama) shows an illegally deforested area on Pirititi indigenous lands as Ibama agents inspect Roraima state in Brazil's Amazon basin.  (Felipe Werneck/Ibama via AP)

Unfortunately, the world's biggest rainforest is disappearing at a quick pace.

Last year, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon surged 85 percent, to more than 3,900 square miles, an area nearly the size of Lebanon, AFP reports.

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Lapola, who works at the University of Campinas in Brazil, calls that bad news for the planet and for public health.

"When you create ecological disequilibrium ... that's when a virus can jump" from animals to humans, he explained.