Human behaviour contributes to emergence of zoonoses
Human activities and behaviour such as pet ownership, air travel and food preferences can lead to the emergence of diseases capable of jumping from animals to humans (zoonoses), said international experts during a three-day conference at WHO in Geneva which concluded on 6 May.
The consultation which brought together world experts on public health, veterinary science, microbiology, ecology, conservation biology, disease modelling and forecasting, aimed to identify factors which lead to the emergence of zoonoses such as SARS and avian flu and to improve surveillance systems for their monitoring and control.
"Identifying the next zoonotic disease of international public health importance will not be easy," said Dr François Meslin, WHO coordinator for zoonoses control. "We hope that the consultation will provide new tools that may make this possible in the near future."
Whilst the transmission of a disease from animals to humans depends on numerous factors, experts said that ecological changes resulting from human activities represent by far the most important factor in the emergence of any zoonotic disease.
The meeting highlighted the importance of coordinated action across all sectors for the successful control of zoonoses. "As recent outbreaks have demonstrated, inter-sectoral and inter-disciplinary cooperation is crucial to ensuring that international public health is not compromised," said Meslin.
Recommendations included encouraging the use of research surveillance data from non-traditional systems such as insect populations and climatic changes, integrating early warning systems of international organizations and integrating animal and human health data at national and regional levels.
The recommendations and conclusions of the zoonoses consultation are available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/briefings/2004/mb3/en/