About

Zoonoses: Neglected no more?

In the past couple of decades, the issue of zoonoses and emerging infectious diseases has exploded into the scenario. While the pandemic H1N1 influenza raised the fears of a global killer, much like the 1918 Spanish Flu which wiped out 5% (around 50-100 million deaths) of the global population, more localized, but lethal outbreaks, like the Ebola Virus Disease, conjured up public panic through a heightened sense of susceptibility. This panic driven media hotspot has now (at the time of the launching of this blog in February 2016) shifted to Zika virus, as hundred and thousands of babies are suspected to be born with microcephaly attributed to Zika virus disease in the mothers. The spotlight keeps shifting, but more and more diseases that breach the species barrier are coming into the news, and legitimately so, because of the risk they pose to human health, animal health and environmental health.

Although there is a new found romance between these explosive diseases and the media, there remains a severe shortage of funds and researcher interest in neglected tropical diseases, zoonoses and emerging infectious diseases. In this blog, I intend to highlight some of the research and emerging evidence related to zoonotic diseases, emerging infectious diseases, and other associated issues like antimicrobial resistance.

About Me

A few words about me: I am Pranab Chatterjee, a medical doctor by training. I am currently based in New Delhi, India, as a Senior Research Associate with the Public Health Foundation of India, working with the Roadmap to Combat Zoonoses in India Inititative (RCZI). My research interests lie in zoonotic diseases, emerging infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance, and systems research.

pranabI obtained my MBBS degree from Medical College, Kolkata, the oldest medical teaching institution in Asia. I went on to obtain my MD degree in Preventive/Community Medicine, from the University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi University. I started my MD residency with an interest in displaced and marginalized population, which led to my MD dissertation, for which I worked on identifying mental health problems in homeless youth. In course of my residency training, I started getting interested in infectious diseases, especially emerging, reemerging, and zoonotic diseases, which led me to take up the current position after completion of my residency.

Currently, my work focusses on the study of pathogen emergence at the human-animal-environment interface, and understanding the drivers of emergence of antimicrobial resistance. I am also working on vector borne diseases like Japanese Encephalitis, Dengue and Chikungunya, especially with respect to figuring out way to augment preparedness and response measures for the latter.

What this blog is, and what it is not

Zoonotic.us is a wordplay: on one hand it represents the word Zoonoticus, indicating, of course, the diseases that jump the species barrier (specifically, diseases that shift from vertebrate animals to human beings); on the other, it reads Zoonotic Us, representing that the coming era of infectious diseases will be a tale of man and his fight with the zoonotic and emerging infectious diseases, much like Joshua Lederberg’s proclamation:

“The future of humanity and microbes likely will unfold as episodes of a suspense thriller that could be titled Our Wits versus Their Genes.” [1]

This is a platform for basically curating research relevant to areas of research in which I am interested in, and hopefully, in the long run, to create a repository of (personally biased) observations on the trajectory of research into this much neglected domain.

There is a lot we do not know about with respect to these emerging threats, and a lot of work is being done to understand how these diseases fit into the entire framework of the human condition, especially with respect to social determinants, economic drivers, political will, policy frameworks, and a multitude of other factors not traditionally associated with the occurrence of disease. Like my old Professor used to say: “They built a big road and a host of fly-overs around my house – and my kid got fat! There is more to health and disease that meets the eye on the first brush.” This holistic understanding of health and disease occurring as events in the larger context of the human existence, the One Health or EcoHealth approach, is redefining the way we look at these emerging threats. The blog intends to be an advocate, a critic, and a student of these newer approaches to understanding health and disease in man.

This blog is written for informational purposes by someone who is still finding their way through the labyrinthine mysteries of zoonoses and emerging infectious diseases. I may be wrong in my interpretations and they may be colored by my biases – and if you feel strongly about them, feel free to drop me a line!

This blog is not meant for medical purposes and nothing contained here should be construed as medical advice. Use of this blog does not establish doctor-patient relationship between the user and the author. If you feel that you are in need of medical advice, please meet with a licensed, authorized physician. None of the authors of this blog can be deemed responsible for any harm, medical or otherwise, resulting from the use of information presented on this website. I am not a lawyer, and am just a simple researcher trying to advocate for an interesting niche in science; so, in short, please do not sue me!

Where do we go from here?

We have all but admitted that our nemesis, infectious diseases, has been reincarnated by our hubris – as displayed by the oft-quoted Surgeon General of the United States of America, William Stewart, who, in 1967, declared: “The time has come to close the book on infectious diseases. We have basically wiped out infection in the United States.” [2]

Not only have those words been rendered hollow, they are meaningless to us as we stand helplessly watching as one disease after another emerges, for which we have no strategy of action, except for reactive mitigation activities. The emergence of antimicrobial resistance has further started to weaken the armamentarium that we already have at our disposal. In fact, if we do not up the ante and sort out this mess that we have made for ourselves, the prophetic words of Louis Pasteur are going to come to fruition much earlier than he would have ever thought of:

“Messieurs, c’est les microbes qui auront le dernier mot.” (Gentlemen, it is the microbes who will have the last word.)”

 

References

  1. Lederberg J. Infectious History. Science;April 14, 2000:287-293. Part of series, “Pathways of Discovery.”
  2. Upshur R. Ethics and infectious Disease. Bulletin of the World Health Organization. August 2008;86(8):577.
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