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Diseases From Animals -- What's Next?

As experts are learning, the list of infectious diseases borne from animals is by no means complete.

What Else? continued...

One old disease is emerging as a new threat: Dengue virus. Dengue, spread by mosquitoes, has been around for a long time. But now several types of dengue virus circulate in the same tropical regions. That's a problem. A person who's had one kind of dengue can get a much more serious disease -- dengue hemorrhagic fever -- if infected with a second kind of dengue. "Dengue is always a concern," Ksiazek admits. "We have gone from a situation where in the late 50s, the mosquito that carries dengue was under control. That ended in the late 60s or early 70s. Now dengue hemorrhagic fever has appeared. Initially it was in Southeast Asia, now it has jumped into the Americas and into other parts of Asia. It is something that CDC ... [is] watching closely."

Learning From Experience

Anthrax attacks and SARS outbreaks have made us warier if not wiser, says George A. Pankey, MD, director of infectious diseases research at Ochsner Clinic Foundation, New Orleans.

"I think the surveillance is better now as a result of the bioterror threat," Pankey tells WebMD. "Local labs and a lot of infectious disease doctors are attuned to unusual things happening. And I think public health services around country are very aware.... In general we are a lot better off then we were 20 years ago."

That's true -- but more must be done, says Lawrence T. Glickman, VMD, DrPH, professor of veterinary epidemiology and environmental health at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine.

"Our ability to diagnose viruses is better now," Glickman notes. "But I think we need better reporting systems for both people and animals. I think both sides are working on that. Unfortunately we don't have a CDC for animals, so a lot of what happens in pets -- especially exotic pets -- is unknown."

Watching the Animals

If new diseases come from animals, it's a good idea to keep an eye on them. That's exactly what Glickman is doing. In collaboration with the CDC and the nation's largest chain of pet hospitals, he and his colleagues are amassing a huge database on cat and dog health.

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