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Mapping Dangerous Disease Hotspots To Control Them

When you look at when and where most diseases come from, you’ll be shocked at what you find (and it might make you reconsider your lunch order).

Scared of bird flu? How about the viral Rift Valley fever? These diseases and many others are animal diseases that have grown the ability to infect humans. They’re known as zoonoses. You heard it, zoonoses. And humanity’s ever-growing taste for livestock products could stoke the growth of these zoonoses: More sick animals around just increases the chances. Already, 13 kinds of zoonoses kill 2.2 million people each year, mostly in poor countries. A whopping 60% of human disease—and 75% of emerging infectious disease—is zoonotic. The best way to prevent these diseases from spreading further is to identify their hotspots—and quickly take measures to control them.

A report from the International Livestock Research Institute, the Institute of Zoology, and the Hanoi School of Public Health in Vietnam collected a list of the top 20 zoonosis hotspots in the world. According to the report, we should be focusing our zoonosis prevention efforts on Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, India, Western Europe, Brazil, the northeastern U.S., and some parts of Southeast Asia.

The dangerous zoonoses that could emerge from these hotspots include brucellosis (common in poorer countries), rabies, anthrax, Rift Valley fever, bird flu, and HIV/AIDS.

Pigs and poultry are key to prevention. "A major concern is that as new livestock systems intensify—particularly small- and medium-sized pig production—more intensive systems will allow the maintenance and transmission of pathogens. A number of new zoonoses, such as Nipah virus infections, have emerged in that way," explained John McDermott, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, in a statement.

Healthcare and disease reporting can at least partially prevent deaths in developed countries. In poor countries, underreporting and lack of care can lead to unnecessary deaths, especially among livestock farmers. The report concludes: "Controlling zoonoses could substantially reduce the human disease burden and support the livelihoods of poor farmers." It could also prevent yearly bird flu hysteria in the U.S.