One area of science that I find interesting is the study of diseases and specifically the topic of zoonoses - diseases that can be transmitted from wild and domestic animals to humans. Of the 1,461 pathogens recognized to cause diseases in humans, at least 60 percent are of animal origin (Science Daily, October 28, 2009). Examples include:
- the 1918 influenza pandemic
- severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)
- avian influenza H5N1
- creutzfeldt-jakob disease
- e. coli 0157:H7
- lyme disease
- west nile virus
- yellow fever
Many modern diseases started out as zoonotic diseases. Examples include measles and smallpox. The appearance of new zoonotic pathogens in human populations has increased due to the increased contact between humans and wildlife. The other influencing factor that helps spread diseases in a quick manner across continents is due to air travel. You can get anywhere in the world within 24 hours. Climate change is also an important consideration.
New funding is being made available by the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) for five new initiatives. USAID is putting effort into this research funding in order for the world to be better prepared for infectious diseases. A good example of an infectious disease that we are all experiencing is H1N1. One of these five initiatives will be done by the University of California at Davis (UC Davis) who is receiving funding of up to $75 million over five years to develop a global early warning system called PREDICT. The UC Davis team is developing a global consortium to implement an early warning system. They will be active in hotspots around the world where wildlife hosts have significant interactions with domestic animals and high-density human populations. I know this must sound like a hollywood movie and if fact there have been some movies made on this very topic. Sometimes fiction is not far from the truth.
So why does this all make sense. It has to do with the holistic concept of recognizing that human, animal and environmental health are all linked and need to be thought of as 'One Health'. This concept makes tremendous sense to me. The science daily article quoted above provides a bit more information on the work to be done by the UC Davis. Global pandemic diseases can have a huge effect on human and animal health and the economic impact can not be ignored.