Tropics to be next epidemic hotspot

February 21st, 2008 - 11:06 am ICT by admin  

New York, Feb 21 (IANS) A host of deadly diseases like HIV, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), West Nile virus and Ebola are flexing their muscles - and scientists now have a fair idea where they will strike. In a new study, researchers have used sophisticated computer models to design a global map of emerging disease hotspots - highlighting where future outbreaks are likely to occur and outlining how to prevent them.

Findings of the study, which appear in the latest issue of the journal Nature, point to the tropics as the next disease hotspot.

A team of British and US researchers studied 355 disease outbreaks from 1940 onward and concluded that diseases originating in animals were most responsible for the emergence of new infections.

SARS and Ebola virus originated in wildlife, while drug resistance also led to resistant tuberculosis variants.

The scientists found that more new diseases emerged in the 1980s, “likely due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which led to a range of other new diseases in people”, said team-member Mark Levy of Columbia University.

“Emerging disease hotspots are more common in areas rich in wildlife, so protecting these regions from development may have added value in preventing future disease emergence,” said Kate Jones of the Institute of Zoology.

Over the last three decades, billions of dollars were unsuccessfully spent in trying to explain the seemingly random patterns of these outbreaks.

“Most of our resources are focussed on richer countries that can afford surveillance,” said Peter Daszak of the Consortium for Conservation Medicine. He described it as a “misallocation of global health funding”.

“Our priority should be to set up ’smart surveillance’ measures in these hotspots, ” said Daszak.

The new study brings novel insights and perspective to the fight against global diseases and its tremendous potential in the new field of disease ecology, said David Lee of the University of Georgia.

“This is a seminal moment in how we study emerging diseases,” said John Gittleman, also of the University of Georgia. “Our study has shown that bringing ecological sciences and public health together can advance the field in a dramatic way.”

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