World maps could help predict animal to human disease transmission: Study

Disease Maps
(Drew Kramer)

It’s difficult to determine how animals pass on diseases to humans, but new maps from scientists are trying to do just that.

Researchers at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and the University of Georgia created world maps that could help predict the emergence of new zoonotic diseases. The maps, which were published in Trends in Parasitology, include data on 27 terrestrial mammals including rabid bats, camels with Middle East respiratory syndrome, livestock that pass on food-borne diseases and more than 2,000 species of rodents.

Disease outbreaks caused by pathogens in animals, or zoonoses, are hard to nail down, but the maps reveal some patterns. Rodents carry the most diseases of all the animals, but a greater proportion of primates to their species are zoonotic hosts. Bats carry fewer diseases than rodents, primates, carnivores and hooved mammals.

The maps also showed some species variation by region. Europe and Russia are “global hotspots” for rodent hosts; Central and South America have more bat hosts; and equatorial Africa has the most primate hosts.

Even though there are more species in tropic regions, fewer of the animals carry diseases, Barbara Han, first study author and disease ecologist at the Cary Institute, said in a statement. Animals in northern latitudes such as the Arctic Circle carry more diseases, Han said, a finding that should set off some red flags for scientists and disease experts.

“Understanding the implications of this pattern in light of climate warming trends will be an important line of inquiry that should be addressed sooner rather than later,” Han said.

- here’s the release
- read the study

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