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UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Leads Attack on Deadly New Diseases

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October 23, 2009

In hopes of preventing the next global pandemic and a possible death toll into the millions, UC Davis has launched an unprecedented international effort to find and control diseases that move between wildlife and people.

The global early warning system, named PREDICT, will be developed with funding of up to $75 million over five years and is one of five new initiatives of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) known in combination as the Emerging Pandemic Threats Program. Building on its long-standing programs in disease surveillance and response, USAID is developing these initiatives to help prepare the world for infectious diseases like H1N1 flu, avian flu, SARS and Ebola. http://www.usaid.gov/press/releases/2009/pr091021_1.html

UC Davis' primary PREDICT partners, which have formed a global consortium to implement PREDICT around the world, are: Wildlife Conservation Society, Wildlife Trust, Global Viral Forecasting Inc., and Smithsonian Institution.

"Predicting where new diseases may emerge from wild animals, and detecting viruses and other pathogens before they spread among people, give us the best chance to prevent new pandemics," said Jonna Mazet, the UC Davis scientist leading PREDICT. Mazet directs the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center within the new One Health Institute at the School of Veterinary Medicine.  (See UC Davis Spotlight feature on PREDICT and One Health institute.)

The concept of ‘One Health’ -- that human, animal and environmental health are inextricably linked and should be considered holistically -- is a core principle of the PREDICT team.

"To establish and maintain global pathogen surveillance, we will work directly with local governments and conservation organizations to build or expand programs in wildlife and human health. Together we want to stop the next HIV," Mazet said. "This collaborative approach is key to PREDICT’s success."

The PREDICT team will be active in global hotspots where important wildlife host species have significant interaction with domestic animals and high-density human populations. They may include South America's Amazon Basin, Africa's Congo Basin and neighboring Rift Valley, South Asia's Gangetic Plain, and Southeast Asia. As activities in targeted regions come on-line, the team will focus on detecting disease-causing organisms in wildlife before they spill over into people.

"While no one can predict with certainty where the next pandemic disease will emerge, being ready for early detection and rapid response will minimize its potential impact on our social and economic well-being," said Murray Trostle, deputy director of the Avian and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Unit of USAID. 

UC Davis will bring on emerging-disease authority Stephen S. Morse of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health as director of PREDICT. Morse said that, historically, pandemics -- epidemics that spread around the world -- occurred perhaps every 30 to 40 years. "But in our modern world, the chances of novel diseases or even a new pandemic emerging are higher than ever, because of how we live and the extent to which we travel, Morse said. "Our human settlements and roadways push deeper into forests and wild areas where we now raise livestock and poultry; and we transport ourselves, our animals and our food farther and faster around the globe."

Those conditions enable the spread of microbes, especially viruses and bacteria, from animals to humans. Among the 1,461 pathogens recognized to cause diseases in humans, at least 60 percent are of animal origin.

Notable outbreaks of these animal-to-human diseases, or zoonoses (pronounced ZO-oh-NO-sees), include:

• The 1918 influenza pandemic, which was probably caused by a virus that jumped from birds, killed over 50 million people globally;
• The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which moved from chimpanzees to people, now infects more than 33 million individuals;
• Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which emerged in 2003 from southern China "wet markets" where wild animals are sold for food; and
• The recent outbreaks of avian influenza H5N1, or "bird flu."

In a global pandemic today, a quarter of the world's population could be infected and between 51 million and 81 million people could die, with the toll in the United States exceeding 400,000 deaths. World economic losses are estimated to exceed $4 trillion.

About UC Davis
For 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to meet the needs of California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital in Sacramento, UC Davis has 31,000 students, an annual research budget that exceeds $500 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science — and advanced degrees from six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

About the School of Veterinary Medicine
As a top veterinary school internationally, and the leading one in preventive medicine and wildlife health, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has an extensive research and training track record in the fields of epidemiology, surveillance, zoonotic diseases, comparative medicine, diagnostics, wildlife pathogens and conservation, food safety, disease prevention, and outbreak response. The school has trained more than 800 international veterinarians from 75 countries, including hotspots in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Its One Health Institute and Wildlife Health Center manage One Health programs for people and animals ranging from the Pacific Northwest to Africa’s Congo Basin and Rift Valley. More information: http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/ohi/predict/index.cfm. Media contact: Sylvia Wright, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-7704, swright@ucdavis.edu.

About USAID
USAID is the lead U.S. Government Agency providing foreign development and humanitarian assistance. The agency's Global Development Alliance (GDA) links U.S. foreign assistance with the resources, expertise and creativity of the private sector as well as nongovernmental organizations. Since its launch in 2001, the Global Development Alliance has changed the way many U.S. international development projects are financed and implemented. USAID has cultivated more than 900 public-private alliances with over 1,700 individual partners to benefit development programming. More information: http://www.usaid.gov.

About the Wildlife Conservation Society
The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony.  WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth. More information: http://www.wcs.org. Media contact: John Delaney, communications, (718) 220-3275, jdelaney@wcs.org.

About Wildlife Trust
Wildlife Trust empowers local conservation scientists worldwide to protect nature and safeguard ecosystem and human health. Wildlife Trust is a conservation science innovator and leverages research expertise through strategic global alliances. Wildlife Trust pioneered the field of conservation medicine, a new discipline that addresses the link between ecological disruption of habitats and the effects on wildlife, livestock and human health. Wildlife Trust trains and supports a network of scientists around the world to save endangered species and their habitats and to protect the health of vital ecosystems. Wildlife Trust created the first egalitarian international network of science-based conservation organizations called the Wildlife Trust Alliance and is a founding partner organization of the Consortium for Conservation Medicine, a unique think-tank of prestigious academic institutions. More information: http://www.wildlifetrust.org. Media contact: Anthony Ramos, marketing and communication, (212) 380-4469, ramos@wildlifetrust.org.

About Global Viral Forecasting Inc.
Global Viral Forecasting Incorporated (GVFInc) is a leader in conducting infectious disease research throughout central Africa and Southeast Asia.  With over 10 years of experience, and having administered over $20 million of Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health and other governmental and non-governmental grants and contracts, GVFInc has shown that most major diseases of humanity originated in animals and that exposure to wild and domestic animals leads to continuous spillovers of novel agents into humans. Through ongoing monitoring of humans who are highly exposed to animals (e.g. through hunting, butchering, and other activities), GVFInc has created a pilot for the first global early warning system to prevent novel pandemics. By coupling this innovative surveillance in field sites throughout the world with a consortium of top laboratories, GVFInc is able to characterize the diversity of viruses and other agents as they move from animals into human populations, providing basic insights into how new diseases enter humans and improving our ability to decrease the frequency of such events. More information: http://www.gvfi.org. Media contact: Jeremy Alberga, chief operating officer, (415) 398-4712, jalberga@gvfi.org.

About the Smithsonian Institution
Distinguished by unparalleled collections, stellar research and expert staff, the Smithsonian Institution is uniquely positioned to convene leading organizations to address complex opportunities and issues that demand collaborative action. The Smithsonian National Zoo Park conducts research to aid in the survival and recovery of species and their habitats, and to ensure the health and well-being of animals in captivity and in the wild. Smithsonian scientists are world leaders in conservation biology. More information: http://www.si.edu. Media contact: Enica Thompson, public affairs, (202) 633-3083, thompsone@si.edu.


More information:
• UC Davis PREDICT: http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/ohi/predict/index.cfm
• UC Davis One Health Institute: http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/ohi

Media contacts:
• Jonna Mazet, UC Davis PREDICT and One Health Institute, (530) 754-9035, jkmazet@ucdavis.edu
• Sylvia Wright, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-7704, swright@ucdavis.edu