A Story Worth Retelling: A Tool to Track Animal Diseases May Help to Protect Humans

New Online Mapping Tool Tracks Zoonotic Diseases

VIENNA — A new online mapping tool will enable scientists and the public to track outbreaks of animal diseases that might jump to humans.

The tool, known as Predict, will be at www.healthmap.org/predict. Created with a grant from the United States Agency for International Development, it is being produced by experts on human and animal diseases from a few institutions, scientists announced on Monday at a conference here on emerging diseases.

The consortium was put together in 2009, during the pandemic of H1N1 swine flu, which had a surprising mixture of genes from North American and Eurasian pigs but had never been detected in pigs before it was found in humans in Veracruz, Mexico.

It had become clear over the years that there was too little surveillance of animal diseases that can infect humans. For example, the virus that caused the outbreak of SARS and the family of viruses that include Ebola are all thought to have originated in bats.

The system will monitor data from 50,000 Web sites with many types of information, including World Health Organization alerts, online discussions by experts, wildlife trade reports and local news. How useful it is will depend on how well it filters that river of information.

“We strongly believe in public access to the data we collect,” said Damien Joly, an associate director of wildlife health monitoring for one of the institutions, the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs New York City’s zoos and aquarium and has animal health projects around the world. “It doesn’t do public health much good to collect data and let it sit while it awaits publication.”

Source: New York Times By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.

Published: February 7, 2011

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