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Christine O'Connor

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Can we control the emergence of zoonotic infectious disease?

Seventy five percent of the world’s emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, or animal, in origin. Familiar examples include HIV/AIDS, Ebola, SARS, Lyme disease and West Nile Virus.

Humans play a big part in the emergence and spread of these and other infectious diseases. Our ever-expanding encroachment on forests – due to deforestation and increases in bushmeat hunting – increases the potential for disease transmission from animals to humans. Urbanization and global travel more easily allow for the spread of a disease from person to person and across the globe. These factors combine to greatly increase the probability of successful emergence and spread of an infectious disease.

Despite the clear importance understanding and controlling zoonotic diseases we have not had much success eradicating them, or even limiting their spread. It is hard to eradicate what we can’t find. Fore example, despite many years of study, researchers still are not sure where Ebola comes from. Outbreaks can be traced to handling of dead chimpanzees and gorillas, but neither appears to be the reservoir host (a species that is a source of infection but not affected by the disease) for Ebola.

What should be done to stop or control the emergence and spread of these diseases before they become global pandemics? Should we try and limit close contact with wild animals, perhaps via habitat preservation? Should we better control the bushmeat trade and/or educate hunters and consumers of bushmeat and other types of wild animal markets of the risks involved with such meat? Or, is a more proactive approach possible? Is there a way to pre-emptively identify such emerging diseases, via monitoring of wild animals and those who regularly have close contact with them?

Souce: Spillover by David Quammen

Also see: Q&A on swine flue with virus hunter Nathan Wolfe "We've created the perfect storm for viruses" http://blog.ted.com/2009/04/28/qa_with_virus_h/


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    Jun 4 2013: Do you think even if the hunters were educated, they would change their actions? Do you think the costs of contracting a deadly disease would outweigh the benefits in their eyes? There also may be other factors involved besides not fearing contracting an infectious disease. Here is something I find interesting. There was an article published by Popular Science that was related to this topic of zoonotic diseases. It had an emphasis on the Marburg virus which is related to Ebola.In 2007 a team of miners who were working in a cave in Uganda filled with Egyptian fruit bats contracted Marburg and died. After their death a response team including members from the CDC, NICD, and WHO were sent to the cave. What I find interesting is that the response team dawned full protective clothing including Tyvek suits, rubber boots, goggles, respirators, gloves, and helmets; clothing all of us would expect to wear in a cave potentially housing a deadly disease. However, the local miners that were leading the team throughout the cave wore shorts, T-shirts, and sandals...

    Christine, have you found anything throughout your research regarding the thoughts of any of the locals, not just the bushmeat hunters on how they view something like disease? I have a feeling that a lot of people, including hunters just simply aren't aware of threats of disease, but the ones that do, as in the case of these miners seem to deal with it as a normal part of nature and are willing to take the risks.

    Here is the article: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-08/out-wild?single-page-view=true
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      Jun 5 2013: Laurel, no I haven't found anything specifically regarding the thought of locals in areas with high incidences of emerging diseases.

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