Emerging diseases a major threat to human health
Friday 21 January 2000
BIODIVERSITY AND HUMAN HEALTH THREATENED BY EMERGING DISEASES AND PATHOGEN POLLUTION
In a paper published today (21 January 2000), in the leading scientific journal Science, an international team of scientists has identified emerging diseases as a major threat to human health as well as a previously unrecognised, increasing and substantial threat to the conservation of the Earth's biodiversity.
First recognised in the 1980s, with the outbreaks of Ebola, hanta virus and AIDS, emerging disease have continued to be identified and many are thought to be as a direct result of contact between human and wildlife populations.
Even the current Sydney H3N2 strain of 'flu can be traced back to wildlife. Wild birds and domestic poultry are reservoirs for the 'flu virus, which becomes virulent following genetic changes of the virus in other host animals such as pigs, and can then be transmitted to humans.
"We live in close association with domestic and wild animals, sharing their habitat as well as their pathogens" says Peter Daszak of the University of Georgia, USA. "The point is that as we expand our population and encroach further into wild animal habitat, we cause the correct conditions for contact with these pathogens and the emergence of new diseases."
The paper implicates humans as the main culprits in the increasing numbers of emerging diseases. As humans move around the planet with their domesticated and other non-native animals in tow, they introduce diseases to new environments.
"This pathogen pollution represents a significant threat to wild animal populations", says Dr Andrew A. Cunningham of the Zoological Society of London, UK. "By regulating this previously overlooked form of environmental damage, we can help to conserve wildlife populations, as well as lowering the threat to human health."
Emerging diseases of wildlife may represent a more sinister peril to the wild animals they infect, by causing epidemics in animals on a regional or global scale. Conjunctivitis in house finches in the US, Salmonella in garden birds in the UK, even outbreaks of viral blindness in kangaroos in Australia have been reported in the last few years.
"Australia has been affected by a number of emerging viruses." Comments Dr Alex Hayatt of the CSIRO, Australia. "Some, such as fruit bat lyssavirus (similar to rabies) and Hendra virus (lethal to horses and humans), indicate that we require a greater understanding of the microbial fauna of wildlife to effectively manage threats to human and veterinary health, biodiversity and trade."
Diseases have even been implicated in the extinction of animal species, such as amphibians, Partula tree snails, and may explain the disappearance of a series of large mammals during the Pleistocene, as humans migrated across the globe.
The paper goes on to suggest that improved surveillance and increase control, probably by legislation, is vital in order to minimise the threats to biodiversity and human health posed by emerging diseases.
For further information:
Please contact The Zoological Society of London's PR Office:
Debbie Curtis: 020 7449 6363
Joe Laing: 020 7449 6236
Notes to Editors:
The paper will be published in the January 21 issue of Science (www.sciencemag.org/) by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
For a full preview copy of the article: contact AAAS News & Information Office,
Tel: +1-202-326-6440 Fax: +1-202-789-0455 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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