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Protecting humans and animals from diseases in wildlife

Avian influenza (H5N1), rabies, plague, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), and more recently swine flu (H1N1) are all examples of diseases that have made the leap from animals to humans. As the list continues to grow, experts at The University of Nottingham are to lead a project aimed at developing a state-of-the-art pan-European surveillance system to monitor emerging and re-emerging infections in wildlife.

Sixty one per cent of known pathogens are zoonotic diseases that have crossed over from animals to humans but our knowledge and understanding of the prevalence of disease in wildlife and the ecology, transmission and evolution of disease in animals is still limited.

'Novel Technologies for Surveillance of Emerging and Re-emerging Infections of Wildlife (WildTech)' is a proactive attempt to predict and manage disease threats from wildlife and assess the risk to domestic animals and humans. With EU funding of 6m, 13 partners and a network of over 22 wildlife specialists in European and neighbouring countries, have joined forces to address what is seen as a very alarming trend. The partners include Twycross Zoo, East Midlands Zoological Society which is one of the Clinical Associates of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science (SVMS) at The University of Nottingham.

This mammoth four year project is being led by Dr Richard Lea, Associate Professor of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, Paul Barrow, Professor of Veterinary Infectious Diseases, Dr Lisa Yon, Lecturer in Zoo and Wildlife Medicine and co-ordinated by Duncan Hannant, Professor of Applied Immunology from SVMS.

Dr Lea said: "Since a large proportion of pathogens can infect multiple animal species and can be passed from animal to human, it is not surprising that 75 per cent of all diseases which have emerged in the last few years are of wildlife origin. Despite this alarming situation surveillance for infectious disease is far from satisfactory."

"Climate change, deforestation, pollution, pathogen evolution and the rapid global movement of people, animals and animal products have all put humans at increasing risk of major epidemiological shifts in existing zoonotic diseases in wildlife and emerging new ones."

Dr Yon said: "There is no doubt that a unified multi-country strategy is needed to combat the increased threat of new and emerging pathogens to animal and human well being. We need to be aware of every potential threat from the recent emergence of diseases such as avian influenza and swine flu to the changing distribution of bluetongue virus."

Professor Hannant said: "The key to success of this important project is the development of rapid and accurate diagnostic systems which are both novel and can be applied to a wide range of diseases and host animal species."

The project has brought together experts in molecular technologies, computerised data base management, epidemiological analysis of patterns of disease spread and infectious disease biology through a network of wildlife specialists across 24 countries. Scientists hope to develop cutting edge molecular technologies which will enable a single sample from a wildlife species to be tested for multiple pathogens in a single experiment.

The ultimate goal of this huge multi-European country effort is to develop analytical tools for multiple diseases. The aim is to prevent and/or limit disease spread between animals of the same and different species as well as from animal to human. WildTech will work closely with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and government bodies to develop an effective pan-European surveillance system with the clear potential to impact at a global level.


Contact: Lindsay Brooke
University of Nottingham

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