Emerging Disease Hotspots map to appear soon

Scientists at the Consortium for Conservation Medicine Wildlife Trust New York, the Zoological Society of London, Columbia University (New York) and the University of Georgia seem to have found some answers concerning the origin of diseases like HIV/AIDS and SARS. These data can help to further predict and prevent future devastating pandemics.

The research provides the first-ever definitive proof that emerging diseases are on the rise, and that zoonoses - diseases that originate in animals - are the current and most important threat to humans.

Scientists analyzed 335 incidents of previous disease emergence to identify the regions where future diseases are most likely to erupt. Emerging diseases are diseases that appear in people or move into new regions for the first time. They include diseases such as West Nile virus, SARS, Ebola, H5N1 Avian influenza and others that emerge from animals. Disease emergence also occurs in developed nations due to antibiotic multi-drug resistance, leading to diseases such as extremely drug-resistant TB and also from centralized food processing, and other technologies.

Emerging diseases have caused devastating outbreaks internationally, and some have become pandemic, spreading from one continent to another causing massive mortality rates and affecting global economies and livelihoods. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has led to over 65 million people infected worldwide, and the financial cost of the SARS outbreak is estimated between $50 and $100 billion. Despite billions of dollars of research over the past three decades, previous attempts to explain the seemingly random patterns of emergence and spread were unsuccessful. This research examines over 50 years of disease emergence patterns and provides the first set of insights into where future outbreaks may occur.

In this study, scientists from four major institutions collaborated to build a database of all previously reported emerging diseases. In this three-year study, they researched and identified the most likely point of origin and underlying cause of each separate emergence event. The team then used sophisticated computer models to analyze whether the pattern of emerging diseases correlated with global patterns in human population density, changes in population, latitude, rainfall, and wildlife biodiversity. Finally, results were plotted against a measure of global effort to identify new diseases, to cut the first maps of where the next new emerging diseases are likely to originate.

"This Emerging Disease Hotspots map is the first to provide a scientific prediction of where the next major disease like HIV or SARS will emerge", says Dr. Peter Daszak, who directed the study.