03 May 2004
World Experts Study Animal-to-Human Disease Transmission
Scientists strive to predict, prevent outbreaks
International experts in a variety of fields gather in Geneva
May 3-5 in hopes of broadening understanding of scourges such as
SARS, bird flu and mad cow disease that begin in animals and then
leap to humans, frequently with fatal consequences.
A World Health Organization (WHO) press release says numerous
factors can cause the leap that disease-causing microbes make from
animals to humans -- among them, contacts between animals and humans,
mutations of the microbe and changes in the environment.
WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization are among the sponsors
of the meeting on this class of diseases known as zoonoses. The
organizations are bringing together specialists in public health,
veterinary science, microbiology, ecology and disease modeling
and forecasting for this meeting. They will be looking at the outbreaks
of SARS and avian influenza in 2003 and 2004 in hopes of devising
better methods for predicting potential outbreaks of zoonotic disease.
Further information on zoonoses is available at http://www.who.int/health_topics/zoonoses/en/
Following is the text of the WHO press release
World Health Organization
International consultation aims to identify, minimize impact of
diseases transmitted from animals to humans
30 APRIL 2004 | GENEVA -- The World Health Organization (WHO)
is hosting a three-day consultation to identify the factors that
allow diseases to jump from animals to humans (zoonoses), as well
as to improve surveillance systems for their monitoring and control.
The consultation, held jointly with the Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) and the Office International des Epizooties (OIE), in collaboration
with the Dutch Health Council, will take place at WHO's Geneva
Headquarters, from 3-5 May.
The transmission of a disease such as SARS or avian influenza
from animals to humans depends on numerous factors, including complex
interactions between human and animal hosts, the causative microbial
agent, and the environment. Ecological changes resulting from human
activities represent by far the most important factor in the emergence
of any zoonotic disease.
International experts on public health, veterinary science, microbiology,
ecology, conservation biology, disease modelling and forecasting
will consider what lessons can be learned from the numerous outbreaks
of zoonoses including the recent SARS and avian influenza outbreaks.
Other illnesses, such as "mad cow" disease, its human form, variant
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and Nipah virus infections, will also
be analyzed to determine what measures might prove effective in
preventing the emergence of similar diseases in the future.
The meeting will consider current challenges in predicting the
emergence of the next disease capable of breaching the species
barrier. WHO and its partners will consider specific surveillance
and monitoring systems for zoonotic diseases. Methods to avert
their occurrence or minimize their impact on human and animal health,
as well as on national economies, will be discussed.
Because zoonoses are diseases that affect animals and have the
potential to infect humans, many of the measures essential to reducing
the risk to human health must be taken by sectors beyond public
health, such as agricultural or environmental authorities.
"WHO seeks to protect global public health," says Dr François
Meslin, WHO Coordinator for Zoonoses Control. "As recent outbreaks
have demonstrated, inter-sectoral and inter-disciplinary cooperation
is crucial to ensuring that international public health is not
For WHO and its partners, the consultation aims to provide guidance
in strengthening capacity of countries and that of the international
community to collect and share information across many sectors. "Identifying
the next zoonotic disease of international public health importance
will not be easy," says Dr Meslin, "We hope that the consultation
will provide new tools that may make this possible in the near
- Zoonoses: http://www.who.int/health_topics/zoonoses/en/