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Scientists make first map of emerging-disease hotpsots
Date:2/20/2008

An international research team has provided the first scientific evidence that deadly emerging diseases have risen steeply across the world, and has mapped the outbreaks main sources. They say new diseases originating from wild animals in poor nations are the greatest threat to humans. Expansion of humans into shrinking pockets of biodiversity and resulting contacts with wildlife are the reason, they say. Meanwhile, richer nations are nursing other outbreaks, including multidrug-resistant pathogen strains, through overuse of antibiotics, centralized food processing and other technologies. The study appears in the Feb. 21 issue of the leading scientific journal Nature.

Emerging diseasesdefined as newly identified pathogens, or old ones moving to new regions--have caused devastating outbreaks already. The HIV/AIDS pandemic, thought to have started from human contact with chimps, has led to over 65 million infections; recent outbreaks of SARS originating in Chinese bats have cost up to $100 billion. Outbreaks like the exotic African Ebola virus have been small, but deadly.

Despite three decades of research, previous attempts to explain these seemingly random emergences were unsuccessful. In the new study, researchers from four institutions analyzed 335 emerging diseases from 1940 to 2004, then converted the results into maps correlated with human population density, population changes, latitude, rainfall and wildlife biodiversity. They showed that disease emergences have roughly quadrupled over the past 50 years. Some 60% of the diseases traveled from animals to humans (such diseases are called zoonoses) and the majority of those came from wild creatures. With data corrected for lesser surveillance done in poorer countries, hot spots jump out in areas spanning sub-Saharan Africa, India and China; smaller spots appear in Europe, and North and South America.

We are crowding wildlife into ever-smaller areas, and h
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Contact: Kevin Krajick
kkrajick@ei.columbia.edu
212-854-9729
The Earth Institute at Columbia University
Source:Eurekalert  

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