26 June 2016

HEALTH - New Model for Predicting Spread of Zoonotic Diseases

Zoonotic diseases are those that spread from animals to humans, and they are a big problem for global health.

(Aedes aegypti - by Muhammed Mahdi Karim)
Zoonotic diseases can originate in pet animals (think of the many diseases that can be passed from pets to people), farm animals (for example, foot-and-mouth disease), or wildlife (Zika, malaria, and many others).

One of the global outbreaks being addressed right now is Zika virus which is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. This mosquito also spreads yellow and dengue fevers.
Given how many diseases originate with animals, understanding how diseases spread within animal populations offers the ability to respond quickly and effectively to existing and emerging outbreaks.

New research published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution by scientists at University College London has offered a model for predicting zoonotic disease spread.

This is the first model that accounts for global changes due to agriculture, global climate change, and human population growth.

It moves beyond current prediction methods to offer an “environmental-mechanistic framework” that allows for modeling the impact of global change on spillover from the host species to humans.

The researchers used Lassa fever virus as a case study, but they stress that applying the model to multiple diseases is critical in coming up with a cohesive understanding of how global changes impact disease spread.

Since changes may increase the incidence of spillover for one disease but decrease incidence for another disease, looking at the issue from multiple angles and accounting for multiple diseases is necessary.

Researchers hope to extend their environmental-mechanistic model to include factors such as human travel, human-to-human contact rates after initial spillover, and the impact of socioeconomic factors such as poverty.

By extending the model, they will be better able to predict the potential number of infections, as well as predicted rates of fatality and costs to affected communities.
This new information will allow governments and health agencies to plan for, and respond to, zoonotic diseases as they spread.

Understanding how host animals are impacted by global change will allow organizations to respond more effectively to zoonotic diseases as they spill over to the human population.

It may be possible to affect change in ways that minimize disease spread, and to put preventative measures in place in areas where global change is resulting in increased risk and spillover.

By Tiffany Sostar
Tiffany is a writer, editor, academic, and animal lover who came late to her appreciation of pets. At 18, a rescue pup named Tasha saved her from a depression and she hasn't looked back. She has worked as the canine behaviour program coordinator for the Calgary Humane Society, and was a dog trainer specializing in working with fearful and reactive dogs for many years. She doesn't have any pets right now, but makes up for it by giving her petsitting clients (and any dogs she comes across on her frequent coffee shop adventures) extra snuggles.

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