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Kyoto and Shikoku (Japan)

- At the great theater of epidemics -

Silence in the room, the play can begin.


We are at the beginning of the 14th century in China. A wave of drought hits the highlands forcing rodents to reach cities. These rodents carry fleas, themselves hosts of the bacteria Yersinia pestis, responsible for the plague. In the previous century, the Mongol empire had established the Pax Mongolica, making trade routes to Eurasia safer, promoting the transport of the pathogen along the Silk Road. The end, you know it, the black plague thus spread will decimate between 30 and 50% of the European population.


End of the play, applause ... or not.

L’intrigue est simple. Elle met en scène un pathogène, une perturbation environnementale qui met l’hôte de ce pathogène au contact d'humains, des routes commerciales et des sociétés aux densités de population élevées qui doivent s'adapter en urgence.

Ça ne vous rappelle rien ?


The plot is simple. It depicts a pathogen, an environmental disturbance that places the host of this pathogen in contact with humans, trade routes and societies with high population densities which must adapt urgently.

Doesn't that remind you of anything?


It is interesting to note that if we have made immeasurable progress in medicine since the Black Death, the same show is played over and over with a few variations.

To name only the most famous, we find the Spanish flu at the beginning of the 20th century, the Asian flu of 1956, the flu of Hong-Kong in 1968, the SARS of 2002, the influenza A (H1N1) in 2009, the MERS in 2012 and COVID-19 this year. The number of emerging infectious diseases worldwide has increased fivefold in a few decades [1].

A piece constantly brought up to date, you may say. But why so much success?

Studies clearly show the correlation between the destruction of natural habitats, the reduction of biodiversity and the emergence of infectious diseases [2]. The more we destroy ecosystems, the closer we get to pathogens. The decor is set.


In recent decades, a new protagonist has entered the scene: pork, cow, chicken. With the increase in the stock of farmed animals in the world, which today represents 80% of vertebrate biomass against only 2% of wild vertebrates [3], our domestic species play the bridges in the transmission of pathogens from wild to human. With the intensive use of antibiotics in farms, at the origin of an increasing antibiotic resistance, added to a decreasing genetic mixing to always optimize the yield, we award the palm of the best incubator of pathogen to the farm animal .

Dans ce théâtre, nous ne sommes pas tous logés à la même enseigne. Certains sont au premier rang et feront les frais de cette tragédie, quand d'autres, au fond de la salle ne comprendront que quelques bribes de ce qui s'est échangé sous les projecteurs.
C'est d'ailleurs un peu notre cas. Nous mesurons la chance que nous avons de passer cette crise au Japon bien que les multiples rebondissements de la pièce aient modifié notre plan de voyage. Nous aimerions bien évidemment être auprès de nos proches mais, seuls sur scène ici, nous avons pu visiter des lieux magnifiques dans un calme absolu.


Ce que l'on retient aussi, c'est que le monde fut le théâtre d'élans de solidarité. Que les jeunes fassent les courses aux personnes âgées, que l'isolement physique du confinement renforce les liens familiaux ou que des fonds solidaires soient levés pour venir en aide aux pays qui en ont besoin, beaucoup sont passés de spectateurs à acteurs.

In this theater, we are not all in the same boat. Some are in the front row and will pay the price for this tragedy, while others at the back of the room will understand only a few snippets of what has been played in the spotlight.

This is somewhat our case. We are measuring how lucky we are to get through this crisis in Japan, even though the many twists and turns of the coin have changed our travel plan. We would obviously like to be with our loved ones but, alone on stage here, we were able to visit magnificent places in absolute calm.


What we also remember is that the world was the scene of surges of solidarity. Whether young people go shopping for the elderly, whether the physical isolation of confinement strengthens family ties or whether solidarity funds are raised to help countries in need, many have gone from spectators to actors.

Finally, many of us think that there is still time to change the plot of the plays to come. In our consumption choices, if we reduce our impact on the environment, we change the decor of the room and we relay farm animals to a secondary role in the spread of epidemics.


It is up to us to go from simple actors to real playwrights.


[1] Smith KF, Goldberg M,Rosenthal S, Carlson L, Chen J, Chen C,Ramachandran S. 2014 Global rise in humaninfectious disease outbreaks.J. R. Soc. Interface11: 20140950.


[2] Halliday, F.W., Rohr, J.R. Measuring the shape of the biodiversity-disease relationship across systems reveals new findings and key gaps. Nat Commun 10, 5032 (2019).



[3] Morand, S., & Lajaunie, C. (2017). Biodiversity and health: linking life, ecosystems and societies. Elsevier. (,+Ecosystems+and+Societies&ots=MP9gSpquau&sig=vBaMLTcwlfYxoGjMBWbvplb09iM&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=Biodiversity%20and%20Health%3A%20Linking%20Life%2C%20Ecosystems%20and%20Societies&f=false)

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