Infectious diseases account for more human suffering in the world than any other cause. This includes natural disasters and every war that has ever had an impact on the human condition over the past three million years of our evolutionary history. Despite the acceptance of the germ theory of disease, the advent of the use of antibiotics to control these agents, and the emergence of public health, millions still die each year from a combinatorial assault of microbes, spearheaded by diarrheal and upper respiratory diseases, HIV-AIDS, and vector-borne agents such as malaria. Yet despite this, we have managed to survive. In fact, we appear to be thriving. Today, the earth is teeming with humanity and also with microbial life. There is only one human species, but there are probably more species of bacteria, alone, occupying nearly every fundamental niche, than all the rest of the life forms, combined. Luckily the vast majority of them have no biological interest in living within us, despite the fact that the internal environment of our bodies presents to them a most inviting series of thermally regulated, ecological niches (e.g., liver, muscle, brain, blood). Each one of these comes complete with a seemingly endless series of microclimates.The human host is home to more kinds of infectious agents than any other life form studied so far. Our bodies are covered with a retinue of symbiotic microbes, whose main functions are to help maintain homeostasis, and to keep out the pathogenic ones. In sharp contrast, harmful microbes have as their mantra a singular biological imperative; namely to take full advantage of us without giving anything worthwhile back to the relationship.
Launch of global early warning system (GLEWS) for animal diseases transmissible to humans
(Modified from ProMed July 27, 2006)
A global early warning system for animal diseases transmissible to humans (zoonoses) was formally launched this week by the UN Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Organization for Animal
Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The Global
Early Warning and Response System (GLEWS) is the 1st joint early
warning and response system conceived with the aim of predicting and
responding to animal diseases, including zoonoses, worldwide. This
system builds on the added value of combining and coordinating the
tracking, verification and alert mechanisms of OIE, FAO and WHO.
"From an animal health point of view, controlling contagious animal
diseases in their early stages is easier and less expensive for the
international community. In cases of zoonoses, this system will
enable control measures that can also benefit public health,"
explained Dr. Bernard Vallat, Director General of the OIE.
As demonstrated throughout much of the globe, weaknesses of early
detection and rapid response for animal diseases and the inability to
control major diseases at their source have contributed to the spread
across borders of diseases of animal origin, such as bovine
spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
(SARS) and avian influenza.
"In such a context, the main expected outputs of GLEWS are better
prediction and prevention of animal disease threats through sharing
of information, epidemiological analysis and joint field missions to
assess and control outbreaks in animals and humans. That will lead to
the development of improved coordinated response to emergencies
worldwide," said Dr. Samuel Jutzi of FAO's Agriculture, Biosecurity,
Nutrition and Consumer Protection Department.
"History shows us that the earlier we can detect a zoonosis, the
earlier we can take action to reduce the threats to people. Today,
the spread of avian flu reinforces the fact that the animal and human
health sectors must work closely together and that early detection
and coordination is critical. This new network is an important step
forward," explained Mrs. Susanne Weber-Mosdorf, WHO Assistant
Director-General for Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments.
The information gathered through the tracking and verification
channels of each organization will be shared using the GLEWS
web-based electronic platform and jointly analyzed to decide whether
to issue common early warning messages.
These alert messages will describe the possible implications of
disease spread among animals at the national, regional and
international level and its potential public health impact. If there
is a clear indication that a joint on-site assessment or intervention
is required, the response mechanisms of the 3 organizations will be
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