Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Next wave of infectious diseases likely to emerge from animals, developing countries

Monkeys, chickens, pigs, bats: What do all of these animals have in common? They're all sources of infectious diseases that have proven deadly to humans in recent decades.

A study released last week found that 60 percent of new diseases emerge from animals and progress to humans. Some examples of these diseases are AIDS from chimpanzees and Marburg from bats. Because of large human populations who come into contact with animals, both wild and domesticated, the diseases can be easily spread, according to the study, which was published in Nature. The study analyzed more than 335 diseases that emerged since 1940, finding that more new diseases emerged in the 1980s than in any other decade, most likely due to infections related to HIV/AIDS.

How can the world prevent these killer diseases from spreading even further? Luckily, the research team went the extra mile and tried to predict where the next outbreak would occur. Using computer models, they designed a global map of emerging disease hotspots, finding that developing countries, such as Central America, tropical Africa and south Asia should be the focus of interventions.

"The problem is, most of our resources are focused on the richer countries in the north that can afford surveillance," said Peter Daszak, executive director of the Consortium for Conservation Medicine, who worked on the study. "This is basically a misallocation of global health funding and our priority should be to set up 'smart surveillance' measures in these hotspots, most of which are in developing countries. If we continue to ignore this important preventative measure, then human populations will continue to be at risk from pandemic diseases."

Photo caption: Global distribution of relative risk of an emerging infectious disease event.

Photo Credit: Jones, et al, Nature

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