Livestock boom worsening epidemics risks globally

Monday, February 14, 2011

CAPE TOWN - The increasing numbers of domestic livestock are encouraging animal epidemics worldwide.

The problem is particularly acute in developing countries, where livestock diseases present a growing threat to the food security of already vulnerable populations, according to a new analysis.

A remarkable 61 percent of all human pathogens, and 75 percent of new human pathogens, are transmitted by animals. Some of the most lethal bugs affecting humans originate in our domesticated animals.

Notable examples include avian influenza, whose spread was primarily caused by domesticated birds, and the Nipah virus infection, which causes influenza-like symptoms often followed by inflammation of the brain and death, and which spilled over to people from pigs kept in greater densities by small holders.

“In Africa and Asia, the capacity of veterinary services to track and control outbreaks is lagging dangerously behind livestock intensification,” said John McDermott at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Kenya, who spearheaded the work.

“This lack of capacity is particularly dangerous because many poor people in the world still rely on farm animals to feed their families,” said McDermott, deputy director general for research at the ILRI, according to an ILRI statement.

Besides, “the rising demand for meat, milk and eggs among urban consumers in the developing world is fuelling a rapid intensification of livestock production,” he added.

The new assessments from ILRI spell out how livestock diseases present “double trouble” in poor countries.

First, livestock diseases imperil food security in the developing world (where some 700 million people keep farm animals and up to 40 percent of household income depends on them) by reducing the availability of a critical source of protein.

Second, animal diseases also threaten human health directly when viruses such as the bird flu (H5N1) and SARS, and Nipah viruses “jump” from their livestock hosts into human populations.

These findings were presented at the International Conference on Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health.

Filed under: Environment, Medicine, World

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