Global group says Zika highlights need for research collaborations across specialties

The mosquito-spread disease Zika could affect as many as 4 million people by the end of the year, according to the latest forecasts--a dire prediction that has the global animal health organization HealthforAnimals calling for a new approach to tackling diseases that cross species.

"In order to best prepare for the future, we need to enable and encourage collaborative efforts between [organizations] and governments, and most importantly between the animal and human health industries," said Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, executive director of HealthforAnimals, in a recently released statement from the group. "Local authorities, farmers and health workers need to be involved in putting in place strategies to manage interactions between human, animal and environmental health issues."

Zika, which has been linked to birth defects, is known as a vector-borne disease because it is transmitted by insects that feed on blood. Some vector-borne diseases are also "zoonotic," meaning they pose health threats to both human and animals. Those illnesses include Lyme disease and West Nile virus.

HealthforAnimals has been calling for veterinarians and scientists to work together to develop innovative ways to track, prevent and treat these illnesses. "It is likely that many zoonotic and vector-borne diseases will become more widespread in the near future," du Marchie Sarvaas said in the statement. He added that an estimated 75% of emerging diseases are zoonotic, "so there is urgent need for greater collaboration between the two health sectors."

HealthforAnimals, which is based in Brussels, changed its name from the International Federation for Animal Health last year to better reflect its mission to unite experts from life-sciences companies, governments and the food-production industry. The organization is one of the most visible proponents of One Health, a global effort to spur research collaborations between animal- and human-health authorities.

Recently the group has been pushing for greater access to animal vaccines, releasing a report last month suggesting that the regulatory approval process for vaccines be streamlined. The group also proposed creating regional vaccine banks that would make it easier to provide global access to medicines that fend off preventable diseases.

- here's the HealthforAnimals statement on Zika