In the week in which a Norwegian woman died after contracting rabies in the Phillipines, the diseases are on a list of eight highlighted by the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a report examining zoonotic illnesses – meaning those which have the potential to jump from animals to people – published this week. Dr Casey Barton Behravesh, director of the One Health Office at the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases in Atlanta, Georgia, told Express.co.uk: “All of these diseases are of concern. “They are present in the United States but also pose problems in other regions as well.”
The illnesses all had the potential to become widespread quickly, with lethal consequences, she explained.
Dr Behravesh said zoonotic influenza had been ranked top of the list, a reflection of its pandemic potential.
The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, which is estimated to have killed 100 million people, is believed to have been a strain of zoonotic influenza which crossed over from an animal population, she explained.
Typically, zoonotic flu crosses over from livestock living in close proximity to humans, such as chickens in the case of bird flu, and pigs in the case of swine flu.
However, Ms Behravesh added: “It’s not just these animals, but animals in the wild too.”
For example, in the United States, bears, raccoons and other wild animals could carry infections capable of crossing over into human populations, she said.
“She added: “I think people probably are aware that illnesses can be carried by wild birds but there are many different types of flu.”
Plague, referring to bubonic plague, caused by the Yersinia pestis, was another illness highlighted by the report as being of concern, particular pneumatic plague, which Dr Behravesh said also had the potential to turn into a pandemic.
The United States treats an average of eight cases of plague annually.
Other illnesses on the list are salmonellosis, which causes salmonella food poisoning, West Nile virus, coronaviruses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS, rabies, brucellosis and lyme disease.
The CDC, US Department of the Interior (DOI), and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) developed the report after jointly hosting a One Health Zoonotic Disease Prioritisation Workshop for the United States.
During the workshop, agencies agreed on a list of eight zoonotic diseases that are of greatest concern to the nation and made recommendations for next steps using a One Health approach.
Six out of every 10 infectious diseases in people are zoonotic, which makes it crucial that the nation strengthen its capabilities to prevent and respond to these diseases using a One Health approach.
One Health is an approach which recognises the connection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment and calls for experts in human, animal, and environmental health to work together to achieve the best health outcomes for all.
Ms Behravesh said: “Every year, tens of thousands of Americans get sick from diseases spread between animals and people.
“CDC’s One Health Office is collaborating with DOI, USDA, and other partners across the government to bring together disease detectives, laboratorians, physicians, and veterinarians to prevent those illnesses and protect the health of people, animals, and our environment.”