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The ecology of disease: NYT cites ILRI study in report on rising threat of wildlife diseases transmitted to people

The ecology of disease

Illustration by Olaf Hajek, in The New York Times Sunday Review: ‘The Ecology of disease’, 14 Jul 2012.

Jim Robbins in The New York Times Sunday Review today writes about the ways breakdowns in the world’s ecosystems can ‘come back to haunt us in ways we  know little about. . . .

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‘A critical example is a developing model of infectious disease that shows that most epidemics—AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, Lyme disease and hundreds more that have occurred over the last several decades—don’t just happen. They are a result of things people do to nature.

‘Disease, it turns out, is largely an environmental issue. Sixty percent of emerging infectious diseases that affect humans are zoonotic—they originate in animals. And more than two-thirds of those originate in wildlife. . . .

‘How livestock are kept in poor countries, he says, ‘can magnify diseases borne by wild animals.

study released earlier this month by the International Livestock Research Institute found that more than two million people a year are killed by diseases that spread to humans from wild and domestic animals.

‘The Nipah virus in South Asia, and the closely related Hendra virus in Australia, both in the genus of henipah viruses, are the most urgent examples of how disrupting an ecosystem can cause disease. . . .

‘Emerging infectious diseases are either new types of pathogens or old ones that have mutated to become novel, as the flu does every year. AIDS, for example, crossed into humans from chimpanzees in the 1920s when bush-meat hunters in Africa killed and butchered them.

‘Diseases have always come out of the woods and wildlife and found their way into human populations—the plague and malaria are two examples. But emerging diseases have quadrupled in the last half-century, experts say, largely because of increasing human encroachment into habitat, especially in disease “hot spots” around the globe, mostly in tropical regions. And with modern air travel and a robust market in wildlife trafficking, the potential for a serious outbreak in large population centers is enormous. . . .

‘Dr. Ostfeld has seen two emerging diseases—babesiosis and anaplasmosis—that affect humans in the ticks he studies, and he has raised the alarm about the possibility of their spread.

The best way to prevent the next outbreak in humans, specialists say, is with what they call the One Health Initiative—a worldwide program, involving more than 600 scientists and other professionals, that advances the idea that human, animal and ecological health are inextricably linked and need to be studied and managed holistically.

‘“It’s not about keeping pristine forest pristine and free of people,” says Simon Anthony, a molecular virologist at EcoHealth. “It’s learning how to do things sustainably. If you can get a handle on what it is that drives the emergence of a disease, then you can learn to modify environments sustainably.” . . .

Read the whole article in The New York Times: The Ecology of Disease, 14 Jul 2012.

Read other news clippings about the new ILRI report mapping likely hotspots of zoonoses and poverty:
IRIN: More milk and meat at a price, 5 Jul 2012.
NatureCost of human-animal disease greatest for world’s poor, 5 Jul 2012. Nature doi:10.1038/nature.2012.10953

Read the ILRI news release about this new ILRI publication: New ILRI study maps hotspots of human-animal infectious diseases and emerging disease outbreaks, 5 Jul 2012.

Read the whole ILRI report: Mapping of poverty and likely zoonoses hotspots, report to the UK Department for International Development, by Delia Grace et al., ILRI, Institute of Zoology, Hanoi School of Public Health, 2012.

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