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Animal viruses are the new global threat: UN

October 09, 2007 09:48 IST

Warning that increased mobility of viruses and their carriers across the countries is emerging as a "new global threat", the United Nations has asked the international community to invest more in surveillance and control measures to check animal diseases.

Animal diseases are advancing globally, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation said on Tuesday while citing the example of mosquitoes which transmit major human diseases such as yellow fever, dengue and chickungunya reaching European countries from tropical regions and which "may constitute a major public health concern".

"No country can claim to be a safe haven with respect to animal diseases," warned FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech in a statement, adding that the "new threat" should be taken seriously.

"Trans-boundary animal diseases that were originally confined to tropical countries are on the rise around the globe. They do not spare temperate zones including Europe, the United States and Australia," he added.

Globalisation, the movement of people and goods, tourism, urbanisation and probably also climate change are favouring the spread of animal viruses around the planet, FAO noted.

"The increased mobility of viruses and their carriers is a new threat that countries and the international community should take seriously. Early detection of viruses together with surveillance and control measures are needed as effective defence measures," Domenech said, calling for strong political support and funding for animal health and more adequate veterinary services.

The agency raised concern about the spread of the non-contagious bluetongue virus, which affects cattle, goats, deer and sheep. First discovered in South Africa, it has spread to many countries for reasons that remain unclear, FAO said.

"We never expected that the bluetongue virus could affect European countries at such high latitudes," said FAO Animal Health Officer Stephane de la Rocque. "The virus is already endemic in Corsica and Sardiniabut could also persist in northern European countries."

Other examples of human and animal disease agents that were previously mainly found in tropical regions and that have spread internationally include: West Nile Virus, transmitted by mosquitoes, Leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease that spreads through the bite of infected sand flies; and tick-borne Crimean Congo Haemorrhagic Fever, FAO said.

African swine fever has recently reached Georgia and Armenia and poses a threat to neighbouring countries, it noted.

Mosquitoes that can transmit major human diseases such as yellow fever, dengue and chickungunya and have already reached European countries and "may constitute a major public health concern".

Dharam Shourie in New York
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