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What’s after Ebola? The Race to Stop the Next Pandemic

Posted January 13, 2015 in A Vet's Life

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The latest worldwide Ebola outbreak caught many healthcare providers off-guard. As a practicing veterinarian accustomed to dealing with zoonotic diseases, when news of Ebola went viral (pun intended), I quickly discovered I didn’t have answers to all of my clients’ questions. Turns out I wasn’t alone as evidenced by the rush of authorities to needlessly euthanize the dog of a Spanish nurse who contracted Ebola. As the New Year began, I asked myself a simple question: What’s after Ebola? Luckily for humankind, some of the planet’s brightest minds are seeking to answer that question.   

What’s the next Ebola?
According to a 2008 study published in Nature, there were 335 “emerging infectious diseases” (EIDs) documented from 1940 to 2004. A couple of key points from this study were the fact that these outbreaks weren’t random and that the majority (60.3%) originated from wild animals. The researchers also reported that over half (54.3%) of EIDs were caused by bacteria or rickettsia, leading to increased stress on our already limited antibiotic arsenal. From a purely veterinary perspective, the zoonotic EIDs concern me most.

Who is investigating these infectious diseases?
One of the leaders in the fight against emerging infectious diseases is Peter Dasnak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance.  Dasnak is perhaps best known as the guy responsible for figuring out the wildlife origin of the SARS virus. His new goal is to identify every mammalian virus and target those posing the greatest risk to mankind. That’s a tall order, considering there are an estimated 320,000 viruses that infect mammals according to a September 2013 study published by the American Society for Microbiology. Dasnak is optimistic his team can complete the task in the next 20 years at a cost of roughly $6 billion reports Matt McCarthy of slate.com. But what about 2015?

No one knows for sure what the next global pandemic will be, but there are at least two diseases identified in McCarthy’s article that I want to put on your infectious disease radar.

First of all, my biggest fear is a viral pandemic. With viral diseases, a humble genetic mutation can create a horrific infection. Two viruses being closely monitored as possible pandemics are Nipah virus and Rift Valley fever.  

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Ernie has more than 20 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a well-known veterinarian, media personality and author. He is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.

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The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the beliefs, policies or positions of all veterinarians, Pet Health Network, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates and partner companies.