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September 20, 2000

Logging Companies Play Major Role in the Emergence and Spread of New Diseases

A recent study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health that examined the factors causing humans to become infected by novel pathogens, has found that the intersection of forest hunting and current tropical logging practices may play a central role in the emergence of new diseases. The study appears in the inaugural issue of Global Change and Human Health.

"Diseases have always passed from wild animals to human hunters, but dramatic increases in tropical logging, complete with new trucks and access roads, have allowed local disease outbreaks to have potentially global consequences," said Nathan Wolfe, ScD, Research Associate, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

An international team of scientists led by Dr. Wolfe found that the hunting and butchering of wild animals, particularly monkeys and apes, provides an important mechanism for the cross-species transmission of novel diseases such as Ebola, monkeypox, and possibly HIV. When combined with the transportation infrastructure provided by logging companies operating in tropical ecosystems, isolated outbreaks resulting from the hunting and butchering of wild animals have a new potential for global spread. Other activities discussed by the authors, such as ecotourism, veterinary research, and exotic pet ownership may also play a role.

"Modern industrialized societies are characterized by high population density, substantial geographic mobility, and close contact with large numbers of other humans," said Donald S. Burke, MD, director, Center for Immunization Research, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, the corresponding author of the article. "The connection of these societies to traditionally isolated rural hunting cultures, which have been greatly facilitated by modern logging, provide an ideal recipe for microbial emergence." The study is the first to examine the connection between modern logging, hunting practices, and the emergence of infectious diseases. Ultimately, the researchers hope that continued work in this field will lead to the ability to predict and control the emergence of diseases and to prevent new pathogens from making their way into the human population.

This study was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health's Fogarty International Center and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham @ 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.