The lives lost and economic costs of viral zoonotic pandemics have steadily increased over the past century. Prominent policymakers have promoted plans that argue the best ways to address future pandemic catastrophes should entail, “detecting and containing emerging zoonotic threats.” In other words, we should take actions only after humans get sick. We sharply disagree. Humans have extensive contact with wildlife known to harbor vast numbers of viruses, many of which have not yet spilled into humans. We compute the annualized damages from emerging viral zoonoses. We explore three practical actions to minimize the impact of future pandemics: better surveillance of pathogen spillover and development of global databases of virus genomics and serology, better management of wildlife trade, and substantial reduction of deforestation. We find that these primary pandemic prevention actions cost less than 1/20th the value of lives lost each year to emerging viral zoonoses and have substantial cobenefits.
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