Rethinking Healthcare

USAID map tracks animal diseases before they afflict us

Posting in Science

To prevent new pandemics, a new mapping tool predicts where new animal diseases may emerge, detecting viruses and other pathogens before they spread to humans.

A new online mapping tool tracks disease outbreaks in high-risk wildlife before they make the jump to humans.

This digital, global early warning system, known as Predict, will highlight geographic hot spots where particular wildlife – such as bats, rodents, and primates – interact with domestic animals and dense human populations.

These areas include: Mexico, Amazon Region, Congo Basin, Gangetic Plain, and Southeast Asia (pictured).

In order to identify the pathogens at their source, this system will monitor data from 50,000 websites, such as World Health Organization alerts, online discussions by epidemiologists, wildlife trade reports, and local news.

It's available to the public at: www.healthmap.org/predict.

The project was created in 2009 with a grant from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which partnered up with several leading institutions on emerging infectious diseases including UC Davis, Wildlife Conservation Society, EcoHealth Alliance, Smithsonian Institution, and Global Viral Forecasting Initiative. The 5-year agreement has a ceiling of $75 million.

The consortium began during an H1N1 swine flu pandemic, which had a surprising mixture of genes from North American and Eurasian pigs but had never been detected in pigs before it was found in humans in Veracruz, Mexico, NYT reports:

It had become clear over the years that there was too little surveillance of animal diseases that can infect humans. For example, the virus that caused the outbreak of SARS and the family of viruses that include Ebola are all thought to have originated in bats.

Nearly 75% of all new, emerging or reemerging diseases affecting human beings in the 21st century originated in animals, including HIV/AIDS, SARS and influenza [Time]. Among the 1,461 pathogens recognized to cause diseases in humans, at least 60% are of animal origin, according to USAID in 2009.

We may not be able to stop the next flu pandemic or new emerging disease as it passes from animals to human beings, Time suggests, but we should know when it happens.

“We strongly believe in public access to the data we collect,” says Damien Joly of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “It doesn’t do public health much good to collect data and let it sit while it awaits publication.”

Image: UC Davis School of Vet Med

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure