FROM THE COLLECTIONS
> Cover Story
Snakes on a Plane
... and lizards and diseases and other scary stuff.
By Kris Cambra
When swine-origin H1N1 influenza virus swept the globe last year, sickening millions and killing thousands, it stirred controversy and confusion over how a virus could have been transmitted from pigs to humans. While no smoking pig was ever found to trace the virus directly, the pandemic renewed awareness of zoonotic diseases—those that can be transmitted from animals to humans. This and other headline-grabbing outbreaks— like avian flu, ebola, and SARS— are just a few of the world’s emerging infectious diseases that were transmitted by animal hosts. Since 1940 there have been 335 emerging infectious disease events. Seventy-five percent of such events originate in animals. These diseases are a threat to both human and animal health. Frighteningly little is known about the diseases animals carry and what causes them to jump the xenographic barrier to infect humans. Without better understanding of those factors, it’s nearly impossible to predict or prevent more emerging infectious diseases from affecting us.
Interest in these diseases combined with concern for the impact global environmental change would have on human health led to the rise of a new field, called conservation medicine. Conservation medicine is an interdisciplinary field that examines the links between human health, animal health, and environmental conditions. Ecologists, veterinarians, infectious disease specialists, and epidemiologists are just some of the experts investigating where and how these diseases are emerging—and more importantly, trying to predict what the next ones will be before an even more deadly global pandemic is unleashed.
Alpert Medical School