The role of native birds and other wildlife on the emergence of zoonotic diseases

National Academy of Science.
By:  and 
Edited by: T. BurroughsS. Knobler, and J. Lederberg


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Wildlife can be an important source of transmission of infectious disease to humans. One potential transmission route involves hunting and fishing, both common activities in the United States and worldwide. For example, during 1996, approximately 11 million Americans, about 40 percent of the total population 16 years of age and older, took part in some recreational activity relating to wildlife and fish. Another potential route of infection focuses on urban and suburban environments. These locations are of special concern because of their increasing role as wildlife habitat, the greater interface between humans and wildlife that takes place within those environments, the paucity of knowledge about disease in those wildlife populations, and the general lack of orderly management for wildlife within those environments.

In the wild, several trends are contributing to the growing importance of zoonotic diseases. First, the spectrum of infectious diseases affecting wildlife today is greater than at any time during the previous century. Second, the occurrence of infectious diseases has changed, from sporadic, self-limiting outbreaks that generally resulted in minor losses to frequently occurring events that generally result in major losses of wildlife. Third, disease emergence has occurred on a worldwide scale in a broad spectrum of wildlife species and habitats.

Given the scope of the problem, current disease surveillance efforts are inadequate. Few state wildlife agencies allocate personnel and resources to address wildlife disease, despite their statutory responsibility for managing nonmigratory wildlife. Some state agencies provide minimal support for regional programs based at universities. At the federal level, the primary surveillance effort is conducted by the National Wildlife Health Center, operated by the U.S. Geological Survey. Outside of government, some veterinary schools, agriculture diagnostic laboratories, and other programs provide additional information on animal diseases, primarily by examining carcasses of dead wildlife submitted for analysis, and individual university-based researchers carry out a variety of studies.

Typically, information about the occurrence of disease in free-ranging wildlife is derived from surveys and mortality events in areas where wildlife observations by agencies and the public are frequent enough to detect their occurrence before carcasses are removed by scavengers and predatory animals. The result is that disease occurrence is grossly underreported, heavily biased toward mortality events, and biased toward species of special concern and interest, such as game and endangered species. Therefore, the available information should be viewed as the “proverbial tip of the iceberg” relative to disease activity within wildlife populations.

Publication type Book
Publication Subtype Conference publication
Title The role of native birds and other wildlife on the emergence of zoonotic diseases
Series title National Academy of Science.
Year Published 2001
Language English
Publisher National Academy of Sciences
Publisher location Washington, DC
Contributing office(s) National Wildlife Health Center
Description p. 52-58
Larger Work Title The Emergence of Zoonotic Diseases: Understanding the Impact on Animal and Human Health: Workshop Summary
First page 52
Last page 58
Conference Title The Emergence of Zoonotic Diseases: Understanding the Impact on Animal and Human Health Workshop.
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