Archived News

Western National Center for Biodefense and Emerging Diseases Info Sheet

July 17, 2003

Western National Center for Biodefense and Emerging Disease
(The Public Health Lab)

The kinds of emerging diseases to be studied in The Public Health Lab include: West Nile Virus, Hantavirus, Exotic Newcastle Disease, Plague, and Foot and Mouth Disease

West Nile Virus

West Nile Virus (WNV) was first introduced to the U.S. in 1999 in New York City and has steadily moved west since that time. We expect it to be a major issue in California by this summer. In 2002 there were 254 human deaths and approximately 500 equine deaths from WNV. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes from birds to horses and humans. The infection has been reported in more than 70 bird species particularly American Crows. A dead crow with WNV found in a public parking lot would carry 1,000 times more virus than the amount kept and studied at The Public Health Lab. Hundreds or thousands of dead crows in and around Davis would pose a significant health threat. There is no specific treatment for the infection with WNV, although there is an initial vaccine for horses. Veterinary faculty are already working on strategies to diagnose and manage WNV through our Center for Vector-borne Diseases, California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory, Center for Equine Health and Wildlife Health Center. Medicine and Veterinary Medicine are professions at the heart of this disease.


Hantavirus is a disease caused by a virus and is most commonly carried by wild rodents. The virus is passed in their droppings, urine or saliva. Humans can contract Hantavirus from dried droppings or urine simply by sweeping up the dust in their garage, storage shed or other enclosed space. Hantavirus was first identified in 1993 in the Southwest region of the U.S. California has more human hantavirus infections than any other state in the U.S. The Center for Disease Control reports that as of January 15, 2003 there have been 333 reported cases in the U.S. with a 38% mortality rate. There is no prescribed medical treatment for Hantavirus at this time. Hantavirus has been found in rodents on this campus, along Putah Creek and in the surrounding area. It’s important that we support research on this deadly disease to develop medical treatments, vaccines and other control strategies.

Exotic Newcastle Disease

Exotic Newcastle Disease causes extremely high sickness and death in chickens and birds. The only control mechanisms currently available require quarantine and destruction of the bird/flock. While not a human health disease, the mass destruction and disposal of poultry is devastating to the poultry industry and poses an unknown environmental health risk. California is currently involved in a devastating outbreak, many counties in southern California are already under a state of emergency. More than 1,500 California Department of Food and Agriculture and U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel are in the field attempting to control the disease which has now spread to Nevada and Arizona. More than 2.5 million birds have already been destroyed and the estimated economic impact is expected to far exceed $100 million. This is a disease we don’t know enough about. Prevention and control methods are limited to quarantine and humane destruction of the birds. Administration of current vaccines was not effective without aggressive destruction of infected birds.

Community Issues

The Public Health Lab is a critical asset in the advancement of scientific knowledge and development of effective diagnostic tools, vaccines and control strategies. The proposal to establish this laboratory has created significant interest and some concern within the community. In an effort to address the major issues we offer the following comments:

The Lab Will:

  • be a national laboratory posed to serve the Western U.S.
  • support NIH competitively funded research
  • identify emerging diseases
  • support efforts for the prevention and control of emerging diseases
  • provide faculty and staff with state-of-the-art facilities to conduct research
  • develop advanced, rapid diagnostic tests
  • develop vaccines and innovative drug therapies
  • coordinate response activities with public health agencies in the event of an outbreak

The Lab Will Not:

  • support bioterrorism
  • develop biological weapons

Location - Why in Davis?

  • Emerging infectious disease organisms already live in Davis. West Nile is likely to be here by this summer.We want to protect this community and the citizens of California.
  • UCD has already made a huge investment to co-locate human, animal, and environmental health scientists and faculty here at Davis
  • Research benefits from broad collaborative opportunities - these disease challenges require a multidisciplinary approach
  • Research is severely limited when conducted in isolation
  • The scientists needed to work on these emerging diseases are also teachers and clinicians with teaching, service and clinical responsibilities which must all be balanced within the course of the day/week. These same people are husbands, wives and parents with family responsibilities and activities here in our community. It is not realistic to expect them to relocate to isolated locations


  • This facility will have the most sophisticated design for safety purposes of any biocontainment laboratory in the country. Construction specifications will exceed normal engineering, environmental and earthquake standards.
  • A series of redundant security systems in laboratory design and for handling samples provides protection against the release of infectious agents.
  • While no one can guarantee that the building would not become a target for terrorist activity, it is unlikely. Laboratories of this nature have not been identified as primary targets. The amount of disease material to be used for research and contained in the facility would be minute.

To learn more, go to the UC Davis Web site for the proposed Western National Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases