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Collaboration key to keeping new diseases in check

Julu 03, 2009

Collaboration across a diverse range of scientific disciplines is among the most important factors in efforts to detect and control outbreaks of new infectious diseases like Influenza A (H1N1), according to one of the world's leading virologists, University of Texas Medical Branch Dr Thomas Ksiazek.

Presenting last night's 2009 Snowdon Lecture at CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong, Dr Ksiazek said the concept of ‘one biology’ — the integration of multiple scientific disciplines — was playing an increasingly important role in identifying where zoonotic diseases — those affecting humans and animals — originate.

In his lecture; Emerging Infections — a ‘one biology’ approach to discovery of new pathogens, he said the world faced outbreaks of previously unknown zoonotic infectious diseases every year many of which were fatal to both humans and animals.

‘In the last 20 years we have seen the emergence of some very frightening diseases including: Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome — a deadly disease from rodents — the SARS virus, Hendra virus and previously unidentified Ebolaviruses and Arenaviruses,’ Dr Ksiazek said.

‘Using a range of skills sets, such as epidemiology and classical virology, scientists can not only establish new ways to identify where a particular zoonotic disease has originated but can identify, more quickly, what factors assist the virus from passing from its natural host into human or domestic animal populations.’

AAHL Director Dr Martyn Jeggo said the concept of bringing scientists from different fields together to fight new and emerging infectious diseases was the way forward.

‘A staggering 75 per cent of emerging diseases in humans have been found to have originated in animals,’ Dr Jeggo said.

‘The concept of ‘one health’ and ‘one biology’ is becoming more important in the fight against zoonotic viruses. It is about communicating across all aspects of health care for animals, humans and the environment.’

Since AAHL's establishment, the laboratory has been at the forefront of the discovery and control of several of the most significant emerging zoonotic diseases of the past decade. In 1994 AAHL scientists identified Hendra virus, played a major part in eradicating Nipah virus — a close relative of Hendra virus — from Malaysia and in discovering that bats are the animal reservoir of SARS-like coronaviruses.

AAHL continues to play a role in the area of 'One Health' and will host The 1st International One Health Congress in Melbourne in November 2010.

Dr Ksiazek currently works within the Galveston National Laboratory and Department of Pathology at The University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas USA. The Snowdon Lecture is held every two to three years in honour of Dr Bill Snowdon, the Foundation Chief of AAHL.

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