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Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases

2011 Press Releases

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Source: Manhattan Mercury, written by Paul Harris adapted for CEEZAD.org website. News release prepared by: Karinne Cortes, 785-532-4614,kcortes@vet.k-state.edu


Manhattan, KS-- "Contagion" is infecting more than box office interest. With a $44.2 million gross in its first three weeks, the film is also drawing attention to the notion of a real-world global health crisis. A key scientist at Kansas State University says the film underscores realities behind development of the National Bio and Agro-Security Facility (NBAF) at Kansas State University.

The film's star virus, ME-V1, is fictitious, although scientific advisors have said it was modeled in part on Nipah Virus, a real-world malady that is to be studied at the NBAF. In the film, ME-V1 is transmitted by bats to pigs and then to humans, eventually killing 2.5 million Americans. That description fits the scientific definition of a Level 4 contagion, a pathogen capable of being transmitted from animals to humans, and for which there is no known cure. Global health agencies scramble to find a vaccine in an atmosphere of growing mass hysteria.

Professor W. Ian Lipkin, a scientific consultant to the film, wrote about the "real threat of contagion" in an op ed piece published last week in the New York Times. Lipkin identified Nipah Virus — which emerged in Bangladesh in the late 1990s and has been associated with more than 250 deaths — as one of the models for the fictional ME-1 Virus. CEEZAD, or Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases, is constantly in the process of studying and developing better vaccinations for Foot and Mouth disease and Avian Flu. Both of those diseases like the Nipah virus are zoonotic, which means they are transferred from animals to humans; and the disease usually originates in animals.

Professor Juergen Richt, a virologist at K-State and a colleague of Lipkin, said pandemics do happen, and that origins among animal populations are not unusual. He said rapid globalization can facilitate pandemic spread. In "Contagion," Gwyneth Paltrow's character is infected in Hong Kong. Unaware, she hops on a plane, lands in Chicago, and then goes to Minneapolis. Paltrow infects everyone she comes in contact with. "The more we travel, and the more we explore puts us in a greater position to contract diseases," Richt said. “People are also at a greater risk as humans continue to urbanize. .There is an epidemiological curve, that is, a curve of the causes and distribution of a disease, which juts up quickly in major cities. Mass transit systems such as airports and subways are huge incubators for pandemics.” Richt added that during the SARS outbreak of 2003, the new Hong Kong airport was bare."A friend told me that you could have played soccer in there." That same scene takes place in the movie as airports empty.

Richt stressed that “as humans move to new locales, the chance for infection goes up rapidly. That's because people are coming in to contact with things they have never come in contact with before. From a public health standpoint, the biggest problem today is communication among public health officials, private companies and governments. If a massive outbreak were to occur, communication would need to be fast and effective. If not, the disease would have a chance to spread,” warned Richt.

In the movie, it takes nearly 130 days before a vaccine is created. There are plenty of imitators and the wait is the driving force behind the panic. In the real-world, the development process lends itself to drawn-out timelines. "We need to improve our diagnostic approaches and design new medication strategies," Richt said. "We have to be prepared to act fast. Films such as "Contagion" are valuable if they open up lines of conversation on such topics.” The film also stresses the basics of hygiene. Richt pointed out that people can protect themselves by washing their hands and taking antiviral medications.

Currently, Richt and his colleagues are working on developing new handheld technology that would make detection easier and quicker. These new tools would allow field researchers to test a cow or any other animal to see if they were infected with a virus. By speeding up the detection process, scientists would be able to relay that information to government agents and other regulatory agencies. Those agencies could then quarantine that specific area limiting its outbreak to a smaller area. Obviously, NBAF and CEEZAD cannot prevent diseases from occurring or spreading. But they can try to prevent a disease from getting out of control and spreading across the globe like the ME-V1 virus.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Source: Juergen Richt, +1 (785) 532-2793, jricht@k-state.edu
News release prepared by: Karinne Cortes, 785-532-4614, kcortes@vet.k-state.edu

MANHATTAN -- It has been estimated that a pound of meat -- whether beef, chicken or pork -- generally travels about 1,000 miles from farm to fork.

That's why a Kansas State University zoonotic disease expert cautioned officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that the nation's food supply is at risk.

Juergen Richt is Regents Distinguished Professor and director of the Department of Homeland Security's Center of Excellence for Emerging and Animal Diseases, or CEEZAD. He spoke recently at the department's Science Summit Conference in Washington, D.C.

"Our agricultural supply chain here in the United States is under threat because of our remarkable mobility that permits animals, people, food, diseases and even terrorists to move around the world with impunity," Richt said.

Richt outlined six challenges for various foreign and zoonotic diseases -- animal diseases that cross the species barrier to infect people and vice versa. First of all, he said there is a challenge for scientists to understand how pathogens behave. Secondly, there is achallenge for pharmaceutical firms to manufacture the necessary vaccines and antimicrobial drugs quickly. This brings the challenge to international agencies and national governments to fund and distribute those vaccines and antiviral agents.

Richt also said that it's a challenge for farmers and firms to protect their animals and workers, not to mention a challenge for physicians, nurses and families to care for those who are ill. Finally, he said there is a challenge for politicians, public health officials and households to respond with resilience and calmness. "The scale of this challenge is indicated by the fact that in the past two decades there have been numerous outbreaks of infectious diseases, each of which has cost its host country at least $350 million," Richt said. "The most serious recent outbreaks have all begun in animals."

Included is severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which cost China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada and other nations some $50 billion. Foot and mouth disease cost the United Kingdom some $30 billion, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy cost the United Kingdom $13 billion. Numerous outbreaks of avian flu in Asia, North America and Europe cost more than $10 billion.

Richt said it is the unpredictability of emerging diseases that makes it essential to introduce an effective system of animal identification in the United States to ensure animal traceability. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has now taken the lead in a new effort to codify federal regulations and require an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection for all livestock moved from state to state.

Although producers and distributors of livestock are concerned by the costs of implementing an animal identification system in the United States, Richt said such costs are minimal compared to the costs of a major animal disease outbreak. He said that the efficient control and eradication of foot and mouth disease can't be achieved without traceability data to identify the location of infected animals.

Richt emphasized the need to link human medicine and veterinary medicine.

"The opening line of Charles Dickens' novel 'A Tale of Two Cities' summarizes what I have tried to communicate," Richt said. "Remember when Dickens wrote, 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness'? Today it's the best of times when we develop policies that are grounded in one health -- linking human and veterinary medicine with an ecologically healthy environment. It's the worst of times when we think that we can ignore the possibility of a major disease outbreak in the U.S. We are confronted with many challenges, but given sufficient determination and funding these challenges can be met."