An article in the New York Times highlights the impact humans have on their own health by destroying the ecosystem. They suggest that many epidemics like AIDS, Ebola, West nile, SARS and Lyme disease (to name just a few) have been the result of mans interactions with nature. One example that many are now familiar with is how AIDS crossed over from chimpanzees to humans when bush hunters butchered them for food in the 1920s.
A new project called Predict is highlighted in the article. Predict brings together veterinarians, conservation biologists, epidemiologists and medical doctors in the hope of better understanding the “ecology of disease”.
A startling example used in the article comes from Malaysia. Fruit bats are often infected with a virus called Henipah, but they are fairly resistant to the virus after millions of years of co-evolution between the virus and the bats. However, in 1999, pigs became infected when a fruit bat presumably dropped some partially eaten fruit into their pen. The pigs would never have been exposed to this virus before, and became infected. When humans ate the pigs, 276 people became infected and 106 of those died. Many of those that lived ended up with permanent neurological disorders.
As forests are cut down, animals have less of their natural habitat to exist in, so often come into greater contact with civilization.
The aim of the Predict project is to be able to predict where new outbreaks of disease will occur based on humans alter their landscapes.