Recently, emerging and reemerging infectious diseases, such as SARS, Nipa, Hanta, Hendra, influenza, Ebola virus infections, pneumonic plague, and leptospirosis, are constantly appearing worldwide, and become of major concern to public health. All of these diseases are zoonoses whose causative agents infect both humans and animals. The agents are originally harmless in their natural host wild animals and occasionally transmit to other animal species including humans, causing infectious diseases. Changes in the global environment and human behavior contribute to the emergence of new disease by changing transmission dynamics, bringing people into closer and more frequent contact with pathogens. In addition, increasing trade of animals for pets and as food sources, as well as increasing numbers of travelers and international interactions, have also contributed to a rise in opportunities for pathogens to jump from natural host animals to humans.
In order to take preemptive measures against zoonoses, a prerequisite is to identify natural host animals carrying potential pathogens and to elucidate the routes by which the pathogens make the transition from those animals to other animals, including humans. However, the world does not yet have any research organization or network specializing in the control of zoonoses. Such an organization would undertake comprehensive studies of diagnostic methods, host range, ecology, and pathogenicity of the infectious microorganisms, and hence establish of strategies for prediction, prevention and control of outbreaks of the zoonotic diseases. In addition, we are facing a lack of human resources for the control of zoonoses. One of the reasons is that research and education in medicine is aimed at maintaining and improving human and public health, while that in veterinary medicine is designed for infectious-diseases prevention and clinical treatment of livestock and pet animals. Administrative barriers (i.e., medical and veterinary activities being under the direction of, respectively, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) are also crucial. Thus, there is no research, educational, and administrative basis for the control of zoonoses, because it falls between the two sciences of human and veterinary medicine. In the current worldwide situation, zoonotic disease outbreaks often occur, causing irrevocable damage to human lives partly, due to the lack of clarity regarding the responsibility for zoonosis control measures. Indeed, Japan is currently unable to fulfill its responsibilities in contributing to disease control as scientifically-advanced countries.
In order to boost dramatically the level of research and education in zoonosis science, Hokkaido University established the “Research Center for Zoonosis Control” on 1st April, 2005. This Research Center will accomplish unique and unprecedented scientific and educational activities by bringing together experts in bacteriology, virology, parasitology, immunology, pathology, and computer science. In addition, the Research Center addresses the diagnosis of field materials collected in other countries. To establish effective strategies for prediction, prevention and control of zoonotic diseases, the Research Center will conduct global surveillance to identify natural host animals and transmission routes of zoonotic pathogens, and will reveal determinants for the pathogenicity and the host range of the pathogens. The outcomes of the research will be pooled as a database for preservation and utilization of biological resources, and the materials will be supplied for diagnosis technology and vaccine production. At the same time, our educational program will provide lectures and training courses for researchers, technicians and graduate students, and will have a mission to bring up “Zoonosis Control Doctors” who are responsible for the control of zoonotic diseases worldwide.
Hiroshi Kida, DVM, PhD