Zoonoses are defined by the WHO as “Diseases and infections which are naturally transmitted between vertebrate animals and man”.
In an article in the scientific American today, David Biello says that the best way to beat bird flu and other zoonotic diseases, he says, is to keep humans and wildlife healthy.
A zoonotic agent may be a bacterium, virus, fungus, parasite, or other communicable agent.
Zoonoses cover a broad and growing range of diseases and they can be transmitted by bacterium, virus, fungus, parasite, or a number of other (also growing) agents.
A recent study shows that these zoonoses such as H5N1 bird flu, West Nile and Ebola now account for as much as 58 percent of human pathogens and the number is growing fast.
In just the past five years, WHO has identified more than 1,000 epidemics stemming from such pathogens.
“There are more flu infections in more countries than ever before,” said veterinarian William Karesh, head of the Field Veterinary Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), during a WSC Conferance in New York City last week.
These diseases are hard to stop because they are not only spread by wild animals, mosquitoes and the like but, even more commonly, by billions of livestock animals, such as chickens, ducks and geese raised for food in vast factory farms.
Zoonotic outbreaks are triggered by a range of factors, including man-made changes to natural habitats that bring humans into contact with wildlife as well as airplanes and other forms of transport that allow “speedy, long-range dissemination of any disease agent,” says veterinarian Arnon Shimshoni of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“There is an artificial distinction between the health of wildlife, livestock and people,” Karesh said. Sickness in one of these groups, can mean sickness in all.
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