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  • Nigel French and his team at Massey University are identifying and tracing zoonoses – human diseases that come from animals.

    Listen to this RNZ audio from March 2011 Tracing zoonoses.

    Duration: 12:57

    Zoonoses are human diseases that come from animals. Determining the source of zoonoses and how they spread is important for preventing outbreaks.

    About three-quarters of all emerging human infectious diseases come from animals – examples include bird flu, swine flu and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

    Molecular detectives at Massey University

    Rights: Public domain - U.S. Government

    Campylobacter bacteria

    Campylobacter bacteria have a distinct spiral form and are a common cause of diarrhoea and dysentery. People can become infected from food and water contaminated with faeces due to poor hygiene or sewage treatment. Campylobacter bacteria are found in most chicken meat and if chicken meat is not well cooked or raw meat and juices contaminate other food, they can cause food poisoning.

    At the Molecular Epidemiology and Public Health Laboratory at Massey University in Palmerston North, Nigel French and his team are identifying and tracing zoonoses. In this broadcast, Nigel takes Ruth Beran on a tour of the lab to meet Anne Midwinter, Will Clayton and Anthony Pita and to see how human and animal samples are analysed for bacteria (such as Campylobacter, Leptospira, E-coli, Salmonella) and protozoa (such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia).

    Genetic techniques identify disease-causing bugs

    At the lab, they use techniques ranging from microbiology (culturing and isolation) to analysing DNA through polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and whole genome sequencing. The disease-causing bugs are extracted, strain types identified and potential animal sources identified.

    Factors such as seasonality and location all need to be factored in, and if a source is found, the information is fed back to the relevant authorities and changes made to prevent human illness. For example, their research found that poultry were the main source of Campylobacter, which resulted in a change in regulations to help reduce the spread of this infection.

    Programme details: Our Changing World.

    Relaed content

    Find out more about bacteria – the good, bad and ugly.

    This article is about coronaviruses, a group of viruses that cause upper respiratory illnesses in humans. In 2020, the COVID-19 virus caused a global pandemic.

    Useful link

    See this fact sheet from the World Health Organisation on zoonoses. WHO recognises that there are more than 200 known types of zoonoses.

      Published 4 May 2011 Referencing Hub articles
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