Experts urge greater focus on animal-to-human infectious diseases

Researchers say there are only a handful of systems able to warn about zoonotic diseases

Zoonotic diseases are shared between animals and humans, such as Ebola.
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Monitoring infectious diseases that have been transmitted from animals to humans must be incorporated into health security intelligence to tackle future pandemics, a new study says.

Experts at King’s College London say that zoonotic diseases — the scientific term for animal-to-human infections — are the biggest health security danger to humans and animals.

In their research published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, they also said that there were only a handful of systems able to give warning about zoonotic diseases, with the exception of livestock management.

While the exact origins of Covid-19 are unknown, scientists believe it may have started in bats or another animal before being passed on to humans.

“Companion, zoo and shelter animals exist in close proximity to human populations and, with limited monitoring in place, remain a potentially high-risk disease reservoir for zoonoses,” said Gemma Bowsher, lead author of the report.

“Domesticated animals in high-income countries are as much a threat as the oft-cited wildlife in wet markets or equatorial rainforests.”

The researchers said that developing better health security was being blocked by veterinary and medical communities “working in silos”.

“Ignoring the potential for animal infections to produce and propagate human disease is a failure of health security. Effective future epi-pandemic preparedness demands improved systems for ‘species neutral’ health security intelligence,” said Ms Bowsher.

The report states that in the UK and US, there is only a limited ability for health surveillance of household pets.

Animals who die in zoos in the UK do not undergo mandatory necropsy — the animal equivalent of a human autopsy — which misses a crucial opportunity to detect potential and confirmed diseases in animals, the report said.

Updated: August 06, 2021, 9:21 AM