The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over. Not by a long shot. But the work to prevent the next pandemic is already underway.

Gregory Gray, professor of medicine, global health and environmental health at Duke University, made a plea to public health colleagues at APHA’s 2020 Annual Meeting and Expo to embrace collaborative, multidisciplinary, multinational programs to help prevent the next epidemic.

“Many of our clinical diagnosis would miss a novel virus,” Gray said at the Tuesday session on “Emerging Issues in COVID-19 Epidemiology and Public Health Practice.” “We need systematic strategies to look for these before they cause an epidemic.”

Gray is the principal investigator at Duke One Health, a training and research network led by researchers at Duke University that works with regional partners in food production and veterinary sciences to detect new viruses and improve surveillance efforts.

He and his team operate in places where humans and domestic animals overlap, such as in agricultural settings. He warned such settings provide “tremendous” opportunities for human and animal pathogens to mix.

Duke One Health homepage pigs at feeding trough“We ought to be very concerned,” he said. “(In particular), surveillance with the pig industry is very poor.”

Gray encouraged nonconfrontational partnerships with the agricultural industry, noting that One Health’s partnership with pig farms in China has enabled the team to collect 300 pig samples per month.

Innovation and increased collaboration due the COVID-19 pandemic is helping surveillance as well, he said. Techniques now being used to detect coronavirus spread could also be deployed to detect the next threat in its earliest stages. For example, environmental air quality devices being used in hospitals to detect airborne coronavirus could be placed in common public gathering places, like airports and subways, or agricultural sites like pig farms, to conduct noninvasive surveillance for new viruses.

“These tools are yielding a lot of discoveries,” Gray said. “(We were) able to detect an incursion of a novel virus in a pig farm one week before they even knew that they had it (through observing symptoms in livestock).”

Gray said that the key to these collaborative projects is developing relationships based on problem-solving, not just “collecting samples and taking them away.”