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UC Davis leads attack on deadly new diseases

In hopes of preventing the next global pandemic and a possible death toll into the millions, UC Davis today launches an unprecedented international effort to find and control diseases that move between wildlife and people.

The global early warning system, named PREDICT, will be developed with funding of up to $75 million over five years and is one of five new initiatives of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) known in combination as the Emerging Pandemic Threats Program. Building on its long-standing programs in disease surveillance and response, USAID is developing these initiatives to help prepare the world for infectious diseases like H1N1 flu, avian flu, SARS and Ebola.

UC Davis' primary PREDICT partners, which have formed a global consortium to implement PREDICT around the world, are: Wildlife Conservation Society, Wildlife Trust, Global Viral Forecasting Inc., and Smithsonian Institution.

"Predicting where new diseases may emerge from wild animals, and detecting viruses and other pathogens before they spread among people, give us the best chance to prevent new pandemics," said Jonna Mazet, the UC Davis scientist leading PREDICT. Mazet directs the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center within the new One Health Institute at the School of Veterinary Medicine.

The concept of 'One Health' -- that human, animal and environmental health are inextricably linked and should be considered holistically -- is a core principle of the PREDICT team.

"To establish and maintain global pathogen surveillance, we will work directly with local governments and conservation organizations to build or expand programs in wildlife and human health. Together we want to stop the next HIV," Mazet said. "This collaborative approach is key to PREDICT's success."

The PREDICT team will be active in global hotspots where important wildlife host species have significant interaction with domestic animals and high-density human populations. They may include South America's Amazon Basin, Africa's Congo Basin and neighboring Rift Valley, South Asia's Gangetic Plain, and Southeast Asia. As activities in targeted regions come on-line, the team will focus on detecting disease-causing organisms in wildlife before they spill over into people.

"While no one can predict with certainty where the next pandemic disease will emerge, being ready for early detection and rapid response will minimize its potential impact on our social and economic well-being," said Murray Trostle, deputy director of the Avian and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Unit of USAID.

UC Davis will bring on emerging-disease authority Stephen S. Morse of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health as director of PREDICT. Morse said that, historically, pandemics -- epidemics that spread around the world -- occurred perhaps every 30 to 40 years. "But in our modern world, the chances of novel diseases or even a new pandemic emerging are higher than ever, because of how we live and the extent to which we travel, Morse said. "Our human settlements and roadways push deeper into forests and wild areas where we now raise livestock and poultry; and we transport ourselves, our animals and our food farther and faster around the globe."

Those conditions enable the spread of microbes, especially viruses and bacteria, from animals to humans. Among the 1,461 pathogens recognized to cause diseases in humans, at least 60 percent are of animal origin.

Notable outbreaks of these animal-to-human diseases, or zoonoses (pronounced ZO-oh-NO-sees), include:

  • The 1918 influenza pandemic, which was probably caused by a virus that jumped from birds, killed over 50 million people globally;

  • The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which moved from chimpanzees to people, now infects more than 33 million individuals;

  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which emerged in 2003 from southern China "wet markets" where wild animals are sold for food; and

  • The recent outbreaks of avian influenza H5N1, or "bird flu."

In a global pandemic today, a quarter of the world's population could be infected and between 51 million and 81 million people could die, with the toll in the United States exceeding 400,000 deaths. World economic losses are estimated to exceed $4 trillion.


Contact: Jonna Mazet
University of California - Davis

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