Skip to main content
Avian influenza. Image: CC BY-SA 3.0/Cybercobra at en.wikipedia
News_

Lack of knowledge on animal disease leaves humans at risk

30 July 2015
Study reveals huge gap in published knowledge 

Researchers from the University of Sydney have painted the most detailed picture to date of major infectious diseases shared between wildlife and livestock, and found a huge gap in knowledge about diseases which could spread to humans.

Little red flying foxes, a species of megabat, are a source of zoonotic viruses that are potentially fatal to humans including Hendra virus. Image: CC BY-SA 3.0Mdk572   

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the world-first study has found that just ten diseases account for around 50 per cent of all published knowledge on diseases at the wildlife-livestock interface. It is based on an analysis of almost 16,000 publications spanning the last century.

In the wake of recent virus outbreaks of wildlife origin, such as Hendra virus in Australia, Ebola virus in West Africa, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus in the Arabian Peninsula, more research must focus on this wildlife-livestock interface to evaluate risks and improve responses to disease epidemics in animals and humans, the researchers argue.

"Oftentimes we don't prioritise animal health until it impacts on human health, which means we miss the opportunity to manage diseases at the source," said co-author Dr Siobhan Mor from the Faculty of Veterinary Science.

"In the case of emerging diseases, we tend to react to large outbreaks of disease in humans, rather than preventing or managing the infection in animals, likely because we still don't know a lot about the role of these microbes in the ecology of wildlife and livestock disease."

Researchers applied new methods only recently used in the animal health realm to identify which diseases and types of animals were most prevalent in available published literature. They measured how research has changed over time and how the diseases and animals involved differ by geographic region.

The results show the bulk of published research over the past century has focused on known zoonoses - diseases that are shared between animals and humans - to the detriment of studies on diseases affecting only animals.

"We know far less about the range of diseases that impact on animal health and welfare. This is particularly true for wildlife, which remains very poorly funded," said co-author Dr Anke Wiethoelter.

Paradoxically, this also means we know less about the diseases that could be a precursor to infectious diseases in humans.
Dr Anke Wiethoelter

"In the case of Hendra virus in Australia, for instance, there are still big question marks around how the virus is transmitted between bats and horses, and factors influencing its transmission. And we now know that bats can harbour many germs, but the research investment into wildlife disease ecology simply isn't there."

The study also revealed strong links between publication rates, media coverage and funding levels for certain diseases. Two diseases in particular - avian influenza and bovine tuberculosis - were found to have a strong association between frequency of publication, media attention and funding levels, highlighting social and political influences on available research.

"Public interest comes and goes, but without sustained investments, research on this important interface suffers," said Dr Mor.

The study was co-authored by Dr Anke Wiethoelter and Dr Siobhan Mor from the University of Sydney's Faculty of Veterinary Science and Marie Bashir Institute, Dr Daniel Beltrán-Alcrudo from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and Professor Richard Kock from the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London.

Emily Jones

Media and Public Relations Adviser
Phone
  • + 61 2 8627 1433
  • + 61 427 309 579
Email

Related articles

23 June 2016

New insights into the causes of sudden cardiac death in the young revealed

Sudden cardiac death claims the lives of 2-3 young Australians every week. 

13 December 2016

Confidence boost linked to weight loss in smartphone trial

Confidence is key when motivating young people to change their diet and exercise habits, new research from the University of Sydney shows.

13 December 2016

Sydney alum off to Stanford as Monash scholar

University of Sydney alumnus Dr Martin Seneviratne has been named the 2017 Roden Cutler NSW John Monash Scholar. The award will see Dr Seneviratne head to Stanford University to continue his ground-breaking work into clinical informatics.

08 December 2016

Minister Ley launches Psychology clinics in Brain and Mind Centre

Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Sussan Ley today launched the one-stop-shop psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience clinics, touring the new facilities leading the way in multidisciplinary brain and mind care.

12 December 2016

Child mummy offers revised history of smallpox

A child mummy from the 17th century, found in a crypt underneath a Lithuanian church, was discovered to harbour the oldest known sample of the variola virus that causes smallpox.

14 October 2016

Does stress cause cancer?

Professor Phyllis Butow will reveal findings from a recent study at her Sydney Science Forum Does Stress Cause Cancer? on Wednesday 19 October.

24 October 2016

Our Australian Financial Review Higher Education Award finalists

The University of Sydney has four finalists in the annual Australian Financial Review higher education awards, which celebrate excellence in the sector. 

12 October 2016

Groundbreaking study tests dietary supplements for diabetes prevention

A world-first study led by the University of Sydney will investigate whether two commonly used over-the-counter natural medicines can help prevent diabetes.

21 October 2016

Carrot, not stick key to eating vegies

Less than one in ten Australians eats the recommended amount of vegetables and that could be because – with the exception of vegetables such as carrots and spinach – there is a lack of understanding about specific benefits. Research suggests we could get closer to the standard of five serves a day through labelling. 

31 October 2016

Australia’s biomedical future on show at Westmead

Showcasing Australia’s future in biomedical innovation eighteen University of Sydney engineering teams pitched their visions for our healthcare future at the inaugural MedTech event, presented this year at Westmead.