Volume 278 of the series Current Topics in Microbiology and Immunology pp 47-71

Cross-Species Infections

  • R. A. WeissAffiliated withDepartment of Immunology and Molecular Pathology, Windeyer Institute of Medical Sciences, University College London

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Animals have always been a major source of human infectious disease. Some infections like rabies are recognized as primary zoonoses caused in each case by direct animal-to-human transmission, whereas others like measles become independently sustained within the human population so that the causative virus has diverged from its morbillivirus progenitor in ruminants. Recent examples of direct zoonoses are variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease arising from bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and the H5N1 avian influenza outbreak in Hong Kong. Recent epidemic diseases of animal origin are the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, and the acquired immune deficiency syndrome pandemic caused by human immunodeficiency virus. Some retroviruses move into and out of the chromosomal DNA of the host germline, so that they may oscillate between being an avirulent inherited Mendelian trait in one species and an infectious pathogen in another. Cross-species viral and other infections are reviewed historically with respect to the evolution of virulence and the concern about iatrogenic enhancement of cross-species transfer by medical procedures akin to xenotransplantation.