Millennium Post

Cross-border South Asian pathogens

In South Asia, one of the world's most densely populated regions, deadly diseases from animals, like the nipah virus, brucellosis, anthrax and even avian flu, cross international boundaries with ease.

A fruit bat on the India-Bangladesh border could spread the deadly nipah virus when it licks the juice of the date palm tree being collected by farmers. Likewise, cattle grazing in grasslands spanning borders could carry with them spores of the anthrax disease, or the ticks on them could spread brucellosis. According to experts, zoonotic diseases, transmitted from animals to humans, are able to cross international borders in South Asia due to the porous borders, poor awareness and surveillance mechanisms coupled with the high density of population.

‘In South Asia, borders are porous; humans cross over and along with them bring pathogens. We are tropical countries where the human-animal interface is very, very intense,’ Manish Kakkar, senior public health specialist, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), said.

Kakkar said in South Asia, there is a lot of unorganised backyard animal and poultry farming. ‘Humans and animals come into close contact in these farms. There is poor knowledge of hygienic practices; bio-safety standards are not up to the mark; and there is every likelihood of pathogens crossing the borders.’

India saw its first outbreak of nipah virus in Siliguri in West Bengal in 2000. The H1N1 or avian flu virus in wild birds finds its way to backyard poultry farms located next to jungles. According to Epstein, the increasing population has led to people moving closer to jungles and intruding into wildlife areas, thereby increasing the chances of catching such infections. Also the growing demand for protein has increased the man-animal interaction.

‘Half of the infections afflicting humans come from animals,’ said the expert, adding that many of the infections are spread by the mosquito.

According to Kakkar, besides human encroachment, climate change is another reason for the spread of zoonotic disease as animals migrate to newer areas more conducive to them. The illegal trade in wildlife also helps spread the disease.

‘There is need for inter-sectoral coordination, which needs to translate to action. Otherwise we can't tackle the spread of zoonotic diseases.’ [IANS]
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