OIE Global Conference on Biological Threat Reduction

“Building cooperation for efficient health and security systems worldwide” Maison de la Chimie; Paris (France), 30 June – 2 July 2015


Natural and unnatural infectious disease threats

Threats from infectious disease can be broadly divided into two categories, the known threats from established naturally occurring infectious diseases and the unknown threats from emerging diseases, laboratory accidents, disasters, and deliberate acts. In addition to managing the daily disease burden, animal health and human health systems must be prepared against the unknown threats. Often we are only aware of the importance of having strong health systems when it is too late, once the Health Services are struggling to cope with consequences of an unlikely and unpredictable event.

Recent examples of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases highlight how ineffective we have been at predicting when and where new diseases will emerge or where existing ones will resurface. Some of these examples also highlight how quickly weak health systems can become overwhelmed. Although we are only just beginning to understand the complex interaction of factors that lead to disease emergence, it is becoming clear that climate change and man’s disturbance of ecosystems will facilitate the emergence of more and more infectious disease threats.

Animal and human Health Services also need to be prepared against existential threats. Physical disasters are constantly reminding us how natural (tsunamis, extreme weather, earthquakes) and unnatural (conflicts, industrial accidents) events disrupt or destroy the infrastructure that we rely on every day to keep infectious diseases under control.

Naturally occurring day to day infections are by far the most common cause of disease outbreaks and have the greatest impact world-wide. However, history has shown us that the less likely and potentially devastating threats from bioterrorism and laboratory accidents are real and should not be ignored. As long as there is political instability in the world or a threat from non-state actors, including terrorists, there is a risk that naturally occurring or engineered pathogens will be used as bioweapons agents. Most pathogens that have been used, or considered for use, as bioweapons agents have been animal pathogens due to their severe impacts on health, economies, social stability and trade, and their ready availability. Poor compliance with laboratory biosecurity increases the likelihood that dangerous animal pathogens and zoonotic agents will fall into the wrong hands, as well as creating the very real possibility that dangerous infectious agents will be accidentally released.

Over the last century, technology has helped us to get a better understanding of disease evolution; it has also provided us with better tools to detect and control disease. However, technological advances, including developments in synthetic biology, have created further scope for the misuse of science.

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Organisation: OIE

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