The COVID-19 pandemic has re-focused attention on mechanisms that lead to zoonotic disease spillover and spread. Commercial wildlife trade, and associated markets, are recognized mechanisms for zoonotic disease emergence, resulting in a growing global conversation around reducing human disease risks from spillover associated with hunting, trade, and consumption of wild animals. These discussions are especially relevant to people who rely on harvesting wildlife to meet nutritional, and cultural needs, including those in Arctic and boreal regions. Global policies around wildlife use and trade can impact food sovereignty and security, especially of Indigenous Peoples. We reviewed known zoonotic pathogens and current risks of transmission from wildlife (including fish) to humans in North American Arctic and boreal biomes, and evaluated the epidemic and pandemic potential of these zoonoses. We discuss future concerns, and consider monitoring and mitigation measures in these changing socio-ecological systems. While multiple zoonotic pathogens circulate in these systems, risks to humans are mostly limited to individual illness or local community outbreaks. These regions are relatively remote, subject to very cold temperatures, have relatively low wildlife, domestic animal, and pathogen diversity, and in many cases low density, including of humans. Hence, favorable conditions for emergence of novel diseases or major amplification of a spillover event are currently not present. The greatest risk to northern communities from pathogens of pandemic potential is via introduction with humans visiting from other areas. However, Arctic and boreal ecosystems are undergoing rapid changes through climate warming, habitat encroachment, and development; all of which can change host and pathogen relationships, thereby affecting the probability of the emergence of new (and re-emergence of old) zoonoses. Indigenous leadership and engagement in disease monitoring, prevention and response, is vital from the outset, and would increase the success of such efforts, as well as ensure the protection of Indigenous rights as outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Partnering with northern communities and including Indigenous Knowledge Systems would improve the timeliness, and likelihood, of detecting emerging zoonotic risks, and contextualize risk assessments to the unique human-wildlife relationships present in northern biomes.
Keywords: Arctic; Indigenous; One Health; boreal; hunting; pandemic; wildlife; zoonotic.
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