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Prev Vet Med. 2008 Sep 15;86(3-4):216-23. doi: 10.1016/j.prevetmed.2008.02.009. Epub 2008 Apr 18.

Emerging zoonoses: the challenge for public health and biodefense.

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University of Texas Medical Branch, Department of Pathology-0609, 301 University Boulevard, Galveston, TX 77555-0609, USA.


The concept of new and emerging diseases has captured the public interest and has revitalized the public health infectious disease research community. This interest has also resulted in competition for funding and turf wars between animal health and public health scientists and public officials and, in some cases, has delayed and hindered progress toward effective prevention, control and biodefense. There is a dynamic list of outbreaks causing substantial morbidity and mortality in humans and often in the reservoir animal species. Some agents have the potential to grow into major epidemics. There are many determinants that influence the emergence of diseases of concern that require the use of current understanding of the nature of agent persistence and spread. Additional factors that are global must be added to plans for prevention and control. To this complex mix has been added the potential for accidental or malicious release of agents. The nature of emerging infectious agents and their impact is largely unpredictable. Models that strive to predict the dynamics of agents may be useful but can also blind us to increasing disease risks if it does not match a specific model. Field investigations of early events will be critical and should drive prevention and control actions. Many disease agents have developed strategies to overcome extremes of reservoir qualities like population size and density. Every infectious agent spreads easier when its hosts are closer together. Zoonoses must be dealt with at the interface of human and animal health by all available information. Lessons learned from the emergence of and response to agents like West Nile virus, H5N1 avian influenza, SARS and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the cause of new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, must be used to create better plans for response and meet the challenge for public health and biodefense.

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