The hunt is on for an ‘Animal X’ hiding a deadly virus that could trigger a pandemic worse than the Black Death.
It is feared it could kill as more than 75 million people worldwide with unknown viruses hiding unseen in animals around the world before mutating and crossing over to humans.
Experts believe Covid-19 jumped from animals to humans, probably from bats, and now scientists are in a race against time to find the potential source of the next one.
World Health Organization (WHO) officials have warned the threat from a zoonotic disease, the term for where infections jump from animals to humans.
WHO estimate around one billion cases of illness and millions of deaths occur each year from such diseases.
Dr Josef Settele, from the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research, a co-author of a new UN-level study on future pandemics, told The Sun: “In principle any species could be a source. The probability is higher for groups where there are more species like rats and bats.
“In the end, it depends on the adaptability of the species.”
Scientists also fear the next pandemic could be even more deadly than the Black Death that killed more than 75 million people between 1346 and 1353.
The also think mankind could face a health crisis every five years. The current coronavirus worldwide death toll stands at 2.6 million people.
Bird flu, SARS and yellow fever are all examples of viruses that began with animals before migrating to humans.
Wet markets in China where animals such as bats are slaughtered and then sold as meat have been pinpointed as the potential epicentre of the Covid-19 health crisis.
Similar to the wet markets, bush meat markets in Africa selling monkey meat have been blamed for the emergence of the lethal Ebola.
And the Amazon rainforest in South America has been earmarked as the potential melting pot for the next pandemic, with bats being captured for study to identify any other viruses that could be lethal to humans.
Anthony Lockett, a medical doctor in infectious diseases, told the Sun: “The species that could harbour Disease X are bats and birds as both can fly and travel long distances.
“Bats’ migratory patterns can be disturbed leading to the spread of disease, as was seen in Australia a few years ago, when bats spread disease to humans.”
But Mr Lockett is more concerned about the damaging potential of birds.
He added: “On balance between bats and birds, I suspect birds win. Birds can pass the infection between migratory species like ducks and fowls.”