Understanding zoonotic diseases and strategies needed to fight them

Monday April 06 2020

An image made available by the Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases research laboratory at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and taken on November 21, 2011, shows laboratory technicians and physicians working on samples during research on the evolving Ebola disease in bats, at the Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases research Laboratory of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Pretoria. Photo/AFP


Globalisation enabled by international travel and movement of goods has played a key role in the spread of the coronavirus.
This is largely due to delayed detection because of lack of appropriate testing equipment and human capacity in many countries.
Covid-19 has negatively affected trade, commerce tourism and has eroded the consumer confidence level.
Coronavirus is a zoonotic disease. Zoonotic diseases can be classified as endemic, epidemic, and emerging and re-emerging (those that’s are appearing in a population or have existed previously but are rapidly increasing incidence and geographical range including such as the Rift Valley fever, SARS, H1N1, yellow fever, avian flu (H5N1) and H7N9).
Zoonotic diseases are caused by germs that are spread from animals to people and are caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites or fungi.
They are spread by either direct contact through saliva, urine, mucus, faeces and other bodily fluids, and indirectly through places where the animals live such as aquariums, plants and soil. They can also be transmitted by vectors such as ticks or mosquitoes, food and water.
Coronavirus risk groups include children under five years, adults older than 65, those with weaker immune system and pregnant women.
To protect yourself from the virus keep your hands clean by washing them properly with soap and running water or use of alcohol-based sanitisers.
The challenges in tackling the coronavirus by global healthcare system include delays in detection due to lack of appropriate laboratories, lack of timely reporting to WHO in order to investigate and lack of transparency by governments.
There is also lack of collaboration between animal and human health experts under the concept of “one health approach” hampering disease surveillance.
As a result this has resulted in high fatality rates, absence of specific treatment and vaccines. This has also resulted in economic losses – SARs, for example, cost the world $50 billion.
Hence they is need for adequate strategies to fight Covid-19 by building collaboration between animal and human health experts through intersectoral collaboration in order to have a common understanding of the diseases.
Early detection is appropriate since zoonotic diseases have a reservoir in animals and arthropods hence they can’t be predicted easily.
There is also need for strengthening of laboratory diagnostic capacities for the pathogens to boost early detection.
Improving case management and infection control through the use of standard precautions in care and treatment of all patients, irrespective whether perceived or confirmed status, is also key.
We also need to integrate vector control management especially for arthropods and viruses.
Developing epidemic preparedness and response capacities by involving use of geographical distribution and technologies will indeed help in managing future outcomes.
But key is the enhancement of political commitment and coordination mechanism by developing policies between various sectors that will help in strengthening surveillance and response plan in control of Covid-19 and other zoonotic diseases.
Political will help in promoting the research in developing and controlling zoonotic disease using scientific evidence methods in future.
Peter Githuna is a public health specialist and analyst; [email protected]