Researchers discuss Zika at zoonotic symposium

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COLUMBIA - Researchers gathered at the Bond Life Science Center on the M.U. campus on Monday to discuss emerging zoonotic diseases, like the Zika virus. The main focus of this symposium was to recognize the challenges associated with zoonotic diseases and to identify opportunities for heath research. 

Kariuki Njenga, the head of the One Health research program at the Kenya Medical Research Institute describes the main focus of zoonoses study as understanding the diseases and infections which are spread between animals and humans.  He says his work is focused around preventing major outbreaks.

“I am working to increase the awareness but also increase the preparedness so that we don’t have more, and more, emerging outbreaks, that, sometimes arise from elsewhere and end up spreading everywhere in the world and causing a major major concern,” Said Njenga.

He also said that interrupting animal’s ecological systems is a big problem.

“Animals rarely come to us. We go to them. So if you want to ask why we have so many diseases coming from animals it is because we go and interfere with their ecosystem.” Said Njenga.

A main discussion at the zoonotic symposium was the Zika virus. Sharon Deem, the director of the St. Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine, said its extremely hard to predict the next pandemic.

“Some of the things we are doing, on a global scale, is having programs which look to find the viruses which are in the wildlife habitats. We now have higher abilities to sequence the DNA, to discover these pathogens, before they spill over into the human populations,” Deem said.

Deem said disease are often affected by environmental, political and social factors so this can often cause unpredictable results that scientific models can’t quantify.

Patrick Pithua, an assistant professor at the College of Veterinarian Medicine at MU says there are several ways to fight zoonotic disease moving forward. “One way is though finding cures and vaccines. We don’t have one of those for Zika yet, so the other way to fight it is to use prevention methods,” Said Pithua.

Puthua says using extra bug spray, wearing full length clothes and being educated on areas of travel are the best ways to lower one’s risk of getting the Zika virus.