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Disease emergence and resurgence—the wildlife-human connection

January 1, 2006

In 2000, the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) was organized as a global disease watchdog group to coordinate disease outbreak information and health crisis response. The World Health Organization (WHO) is the headquarters for this network. Understandably, the primary focus for WHO is human health. However, diseases such as the H5N1 avian influenza epizootic in Asian bird populations demonstrate the need for integrating knowledge about disease emergence in animals and in humans.

Aside from human disease concerns, H5N1 avian influenza has major economic consequences for the poultry industry worldwide. Many other emerging diseases, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), monkeypox, Ebola fever, and West Nile fever, also have an important wildlife component. Despite these wildlife associations, the true integration of the wildlife component in approaches towards disease emergence remains elusive. This separation between wildlife and other species’ interests is counterproductive because the emergence of zoonotic viruses and other pathogens maintained by wildlife reservoir hosts is poorly understood.

This book is about the wildlife component of emerging diseases. It is intended to enhance the reader’s awareness of the role of wildlife in disease emergence. By doing so, perhaps a more holistic approach to disease prevention and control will emerge for the benefit of human, domestic animal, and free-ranging wildlife populations alike. The perspectives offered are influenced by more than four decades of my experiences as a wildlife disease practitioner. Although wildlife are victims to many of the same disease agents affecting humans and domestic animals, many aspects of disease in free-ranging wildlife require different approaches than those commonly applied to address disease in humans or domestic animals. Nevertheless, the broader community of disease investigators and health care professionals has largely pursued a separatist approach for human, domestic animal, and wildlife rather than embracing the periodically proposed concept of “one medicine.” We especially need to embrace this concept as the human population increases because there will be more contact, direct and indirect, among humans, domestic animals, and wildlife. An “Ecology for a Crowded Planet” will be an even more pressing concern, and that includes increasing our understanding of disease ecology, especially that of the zoonoses.

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