Drivers of disease emergence and spread: Is wildlife to blame?

Richard Kock
Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research | Vol 81, No 2 | a739 | DOI: | © 2014 Richard Kock | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 December 2013 | Published: 23 April 2014

About the author(s)

Richard Kock, Department of Pathology and Pathogen Biology, Royal Veterinary College, United Kingdom


The global focus on wildlife as a major contributor to emerging pathogens and infectious diseases (EIDs) in humans and domestic animals is not based on field, experimental or dedicated research, but mostly on limited surveys of literature, opinion and the assumption that biodiversity harbours pathogens. The perceived and direct impacts of wildlife, from being a reservoir of certain human and livestock pathogens and as a risk to health, are frequently overstated when compared to the Global burden of disease statistics available from WHO, OIE and FAO. However organisms that evolve in wildlife species can and do spill-over into human landscapes and humans and domestic animal population and, where these organisms adapt to surviving and spreading amongst livestock and humans, these emerging infections can have significant consequences. Drivers for the spill-over of pathogens or evolution of organisms from wildlife reservoirs to become pathogens of humans and domestic animals are varied but almost without exception poorly researched. The changing demographics, spatial distribution and movements, associated landscape modifications (especially agricultural) and behavioural changes involving human and domestic animal populations are probably the core drivers of the apparent increasing trend in emergence of new pathogens and infectious diseases over recent decades.


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