Ecological Society Event To Discuss Infectious Diseases And Human-Environment Interaction
June 29, 2013

Ecological Society Event To Discuss Infectious Diseases And Human-Environment Interaction

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The possibility that human interaction with the environment could be responsible for the spread of infectious diseases such as West Nile virus, Lyme disease and hantavirus will be among the topics discussed at this year's annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America.

The conference, which will be held from August 5 through August 9 in Minneapolis, will feature two symposia discussing the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases, officials from the US National Science Foundation (NSF) announced on Friday.

The first symposium will address human influences on viral and bacterial diseases through the alteration of ecosystems and ecological processes, while the other will be devoted to eco-epidemiology, an emerging scientific field which looks to integrate biomedical and ecological research methods of addressing health threats.

"These sessions show that basic research is critical for managing disease threats. They also showcase the need to link scientists with public health professionals," said Sam Scheiner, director of the joint NSF / National Institutes of Health Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) Program. The NSF EEID program funds much of the research that is scheduled to be presented in both discussion groups.

The first symposium will be presented on Monday, August 5 at the Minneapolis Convention Center, and will analyze the connection between human activities and infectious diseases. Participants will address issues including what are the primary reasons that wildlife diseases affect domesticated animals and humans, and why the prevalence of pathogens in wildlife in urban areas are often altered by counterparts in less developed environments.

It will be moderated by Courtney Coon of the University of South Florida, and speakers will include Parviez Hosseini of EcoHealth Alliance; Matthew Ferrari and Raina Plowright of Penn State University; Marm Kilpatrick of the University of California, Santa Cruz; Sonia Altizer of the University of Georgia; and Becki Lawson of the Zoological Society of London. Virginia Tech's James Adelman is the symposium's co-organizer.

While people typically think of diseases as things that are just "out there" in the environment, the speakers will discuss how simple human activities like feeding birds can impact the number, diversity and distribution of wildlife species. This, in turn, also has an impact on the pathogens that cause infectious disease.

"New human settlements, the spread of agriculture and the increasing proximity of people, their pets and livestock to wild animals increase the probability of disease outbreaks," Coon said. "We're interested in learning more about how urban and other environments that humans dramatically change affect the susceptibility and transmission potential of animals that are hosts or vectors of disease."

The second symposium will be held on Tuesday, August 6, and will review ways to integrate biomedical and ecological approaches into the investigation and control of emerging diseases. For instance, the participants will look at why the majority of instances of Lyme disease in the eastern US happen in the north, even though the tick that transmits the bacterium responsible for the condition is also found in the southern states.

"Environmental processes and human health are linked, and we'd like to chart a future in which ecologists and epidemiologists more routinely work in tandem to address health problems," explained symposium organizer Jory Brinkerhoff of the University of Richmond. "Disease ecologists and epidemiologists address some of the same kinds of questions, yet operate largely in isolation of one another. We're bringing them together to share their approaches and study designs, and to strengthen our ability to address public health issues."

Speakers for this discussion group include Maria Diuk-Wasser of the Yale School of Public Health; Daniel Salkeld of Colorado State University; Mark Wilson of the University of Michigan; James Holland Jones of Stanford University; Harish Padmanabha of the National Center for Socio-Environmental Synthesis; and Jean Tsao of Michigan State University. Diuk-Wasser also serves as co-organizer of the event.