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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2001 Jun 29;356(1410):957-77.

The Leeuwenhoek Lecture 2001. Animal origins of human infectious disease.

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  • 1Wohl Virion Centre, Department of Immunology and Molecular Pathology, University College London, 46 Cleveland Street, London W1T 4JF, UK.


Since time immemorial animals have been a major source of human infectious disease. Certain infections like rabies are recognized as zoonoses caused in each case by direct animal-to-human transmission. Others like measles became independently sustained with the human population so that the causative virus has diverged from its animal progenitor. Recent examples of direct zoonoses are variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease arising from bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and the H5N1 avian influenza outbreak in Hong Kong. Epidemics of recent animal origin are the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome caused by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Some retroviruses jump into and out of the chromosomal DNA of the host germline, so that they oscillate between being inherited Mendelian traits or infectious agents in different species. Will new procedures like animal-to-human transplants unleash further infections? Do microbes become more virulent upon cross-species transfer? Are animal microbes a threat as biological weapons? Will the vast reservoir of immunodeficient hosts due to the HIV pandemic provide conditions permissive for sporadic zoonoses to take off as human-to-human transmissible diseases? Do human infections now pose a threat to endangered primates? These questions are addressed in this lecture.

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