Where will the next major infectious disease outbreak occur?

Posted Jun 25, 2017 by Tim Sandle
Macroecologists are altering the health and medical community over a serious lack of data on the worldwide distribution of disease-causing organisms. This paucity of information will happen responses to the next global epidemic.
The mosquito-borne Zika virus can cause the birth defect microcephaly  which can cause babies to be ...
The mosquito-borne Zika virus can cause the birth defect microcephaly, which can cause babies to be born with unusually small heads and deformed brains. In Europe, the potential threat of Zika comes from a mosquito related to Aedes aegypti (pictured) -- Aedes albopictus -- which began to spread in southern Europe about 25 years ago.
Nelson Almeida, AFP/File
Two research groups have called for concerted global government action over the serious lack of data relating the worldwide distribution of disease-causing organisms. Without improved knowledge, the scientists warn, then predicting where and when the next disease outbreak will emerge is hampered. This , in turn, stops prevention or preparedness for the next infectious agent world health issue. Macroecologists say that a new data network is needed in order to reduce the knowledge gap. Macroecology is the subfield of ecology that deals with the study of relationships between organisms and their environment at large spatial scales to characterise and explain statistical patterns of abundance, distribution and diversity.
The research teams herald from Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, University of Copenhagen and North Carolina State University. The essential message from the scientists is that, collectively, humankind is lacking fundamental knowledge about the global distribution of a whole host of disease-causing species. This includes viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites - the entire range of the microbial kingdom.
As the leader of the group, Professor Anna-Sofie Stensgaard from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, outlines in a joint statement: "Today, we know less about where disease-causing organisms occur, than the global distribution of most mammals, birds and even ants. Without this basic knowledge it is very hard to predict if, for instance, certain bacteria or parasites, transmitted via mosquitoes or other bloodsucking insects, are likely to spread or not, and what measures we must take in order to prevent this."
To highlight their concerns, the researchers have produced an index of over 2,100 organisms across the globe that can make humans sick. Of these, 355 are classed as clinical important and combined they are responsible for some 10 million death each year. Most of these deaths are concentrated in the tropics. Despite these risks, medical scientists have detailed knowledge about the global distribution and ease of spread of fewer than 17 of these disease causing organisms.
The solution, the researchers argue in a new paper, is to establish a new and in-depth database about global disease distribution. To make this work funding and interventionist government support will be needed. The findings are published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, with the study described as "The neglected geography of human pathogens and diseases."