A look at agencies responsible for suppressing a real world ‘contagion’

Recent blockbuster films, including “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Contagion” have featured zoonotic diseases that spread into (spoiler alert) deadly pandemics. If the respective films didn’t give you a case of hypochondria, statistics collected by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will: Approximately 75 percent of recently emerging infectious diseases affecting humans are diseases of animal origin and approximately 60 percent of all human pathogens are zoonotic, communicable from animals to people. But what current procedures are in place to prevent fiction from becoming fact? A recent article from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) details the work being done to monitor wildlife in efforts contain outbreaks and prevent spread to humans. Established in 1975 and headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) collaborates with wildlife biologists from the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as state partners to provide immediate technical assistance to field personnel who find sick and dead wildlife. NWHC personnel provide instructions on collection, preservation, and shipment of specimens for laboratory examination and travel to problem areas to conduct field investigations and assist local personnel with disease control operations. While the NWHC is on the front lines in monitoring wildlife, the CDC’s  National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases focuses specifically on human impacts, with a complex network across six divisions to detect, prevent, and control infectious diseases from spreading in the United States and around the world, including the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases, the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, the Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, the Division of Preparedness and Emerging Infections, the Division of Scientific Resources and Division of Vector-Borne Diseases. Established in early 2010, the center consists of a diverse workforce of “microbiologists, epidemiologists, educators, chemists, ecologists, demographers, statisticians, health economists, veterinarians, health communicators and information technology experts.” Read more at Preventing Pandemic: the Wildlife Forensics of New and Emerging Diseases and learn more about the CDC National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases here. Photo Credit: Rich Magahiz...

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Indulging in wasteful eating habits

As many of us once again rouse ourselves from festivities filled with an overabundance of food, it might be sombering to ponder that a recent PLoS ONE study suggests that nearly 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted.  As noted in a recent ScienceNOW article, physiologist Kevin Hall and mathematician Carson Chow, both at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), calculated the energy content of nationwide food waste from the difference between the US food supply and the food consumed by the population.  They used a mathematical model of metabolism relating body weight to amount of food eaten.  The result: in 2003, 1450 calories per capita, or 39 percent of available food was wasted.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture puts the figure at 27 percent, based on interviews with consumers and producers. The authors point out that in addition to the food itself, freshwater used to grow food and fossil fuels used to transport it are also wasted. The ScienceNOW article quotes Greg Keoleian, Co-Director of the Center for Sustainable Systems as saying: If it [food] was more expensive, waste would be reduced.  Waste and overconsumption is the key issue affecting the sustainability of the U.S. food system. Makes me think a good New Year’s resolution might be to be more vigilant about using what’s already in the ‘fridge and pantry before running out to buy more food. Hall, K., Guo, J., Dore, M., & Chow, C. (2009). The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact PLoS ONE, 4 (11) DOI:...

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