LONDON, June 13 (Xinhua) -- A team of researchers has developed a model that predicts outbreaks of zoonotic diseases based on changes in climate, population growth, and land use.
According to a study published online Monday in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, more than 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic: those originating in livestock or wildlife such as Ebola and Zika.
Aside from these two well-known diseases, there are many other diseases including Rift Valley fever and Lassa fever which have affected thousands already and are predicted to spread with changing environmental factors.
The team tested the new model with Lassa fever. They used the locations of 408 known Lassa fever outbreaks in West Africa from 1967 to 2012 and the changes in land use and crop yields, temperature and rainfall, behavior, and access to health care.
They also identified the sub-species of rat which transmits Lassa virus to humans to map its location against ecological factors. The model was then developed using this information along with forecasts of climate change, future population density, and land-use change.
Lassa fever is endemic across West Africa and is caused by Lassa virus passing to people from rats. The model predicts the number of people with the disease will double from currently 195,125 to 406,725 by 2070 due to climate change and a growing human population, according to the study.
Like Ebola virus, Lassa virus causes hemorrhagic fever and can be fatal.
"This model is a major improvement in our understanding of the spread of diseases from animals to people. We hope it can be used to help communities prepare and respond to disease outbreaks, as well as to make decisions about environmental change factors," said lead author Professor Kate Jones, from University College London.
The model could be refined to consider zoonotic disease transmission within human populations by including the impact of travel, human-to-human contact rates, and poverty, which would have been of enormous use in the recent Ebola and Zika outbreaks, according to the team. Enditem