Emerging zoonotic diseases threaten global biodiversity, animal and public health, and can cause severe economic damage. There is a high risk of disease outbreaks in highly populated areas and in the interface between wildlife, humans and domestic animals.
In an international research project based at the Swedish Biodiversity Centre at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), researchers are studying emerging zoonotic infections and antibiotic resistance in humans and wildlife, such as elephants and primates in Sri Lanka.
With 3-year funding from the Swedish Research Council, the project includes surveillance and screening of elephants and wildlife workers for tuberculosis, along with sampling free-ranging primates and rodents for other zoonotic pathogens. In one study, the researchers have shown that free-ranging non-human primates in Sri Lanka may be carriers of bacterial pathogens with antibiotic resistance, such as Campylobacter jejuni, of importance for both public health and conservation of endangered species, including the endemic toque macaque.
Sampling of wild animals for disease surveillance often requires immobilization to enable safe handling. The project also includes evaluation and improvement of wildlife immobilization, to improve handling of endangered species and prevent mortality.
- We are planning sampling of elephants and wildlife workers in Sri Lanka for surveillance and prevention of tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis), says Åsa Fahlman, Associate Professor in Wildlife Medicine, who is the project coordinator at the Swedish Biodiversity Centre. Through exchange visits to Sweden and capacity building in Sri Lanka, new diagnostic methods will improve disease monitoring and detection of emerging diseases in animals and people.
The One Health concept recognizes that the health of humans, animals and ecosystems are closely interconnected. With an emphasis on the One Health approach, contributing collaborators are from complementary fields of veterinary and human health, microbiology, metagenomics, bioinformatics, and wildlife conservation at scientific and governmental institutions.
Senior Professor Sunil-Chandra, Research Chair at the University of Kelaniya in Sri Lanka is visiting Sweden for project meetings with collaborators from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Kolmårdens Zoo and Wildlife Park, and the Swedish Defense Research Agency in Umeå.
- Our collaborative research will provide new knowledge to health authorities in Sri Lanka of importance for the development of preventative strategies for emerging zoonotic infections, says Prof Sunil-Chandra.
The research on emerging pathogens and wildlife immobilization is of direct relevance for local livelihoods, wildlife resource management and biodiversity conservation.
In the picture: (from the left): associate professor Åsa Fahlman, professor Sunil-Chandra, professor Gunilla Källenius.