Disease ecology and the global emergence of zoonotic pathogens

Original Article


The incidence and frequency of epidemic transmission of zoonotic diseases, both known and newly recognized, has increased dramatically in the past 30 years. It is thought that this dramatic disease emergence is primarily the result of the social, demographic, and environmental transformation that has occurred globally since World War II. However, the causal linkages have not been elucidated. Investigating emerging zoonotic pathogens as an ecological phenomenon can provide significant insights as to why some of these pathogens have jumped species and caused major epidemics in humans. A review of concepts and theory from biological ecology and of causal factors in disease emergence previously described suggests a general model of global zoonotic disease emergence. The model links demographic and societal factors to land use and land cover change whose associated ecological factors help explain disease emergence. The scale and magnitude of these changes are more significant than those associated with climate change, the effects of which are largely not yet understood. Unfortunately, the complex character and non-linear behavior of the human-natural systems in which host-pathogen systems are embedded makes specific incidences of disease emergence or epidemics inherently difficult to predict. Employing a complex systems analytical approach, however, may show how a few key ecological variables and system properties, including the adaptive capacity of institutions, explains the emergence of infectious diseases and how an integrated, multi-level approach to zoonotic disease control can reduce risk.

Key words

emerging diseases ecosystem change ecology complexity sustainable development 

Copyright information

© Japanese Society of Hygiene 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Asia-Pacific Institute for Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases, Department of Tropical Medicine and Medical Microbiology. John A. Burns School of MedicineUniversity of HawaiiHonolulu

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