Most infectious diseases infect multiple host species, but to date, efforts to quantify the frequency and outcome of cross-species transmission (CST) of these diseases have been severely limited.
This lack of information represents a major gap in knowledge of how diseases emerge, and from which species they will emerge.
A paper published this week in the journal Science by a team of researchers led by Daniel Streicker of the University of Georgia has begun to close that gap.
Results of a study, conducted by Streicker and co-authors from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and Western Michigan University, provide some of the first estimates for any infectious disease of how often CST happens in complex, multi-host communities--and the likelihood of disease in a new host species.
"Some of the deadliest human diseases, including AIDS and malaria, arose in other species and then jumped to humans," said Sam Scheiner of the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Environmental Biology, which co-funded the research with NSF's Directorate for Geosciences through the joint NIH-NSF Ecology of Infectious Diseases Program.
"Understanding that process," said Scheiner, "is key to predicting and preventing the next big outbreak."
Rabies is an ideal system to answer these questions, believes Streicker.
The disease occurs across the country, affects many different host species, and is known to mutate frequently. Although cases of rabies in humans are rare in the U.S., bats are the most common source of these infections.
To determine the rate of CST, and what outcomes those transmissions had, Streicker and his colleagues used a large dataset, unprecedented in its scope, containing hundreds of rabies viruses from 23 North American bat species.
They sequenced the nucleoprotein gene of each virus sample and used tools from population genet
|Contact: Cheryl Dybas|
National Science Foundation