Fifty percent of current research on diseases that can spread from wild animals to livestock and then to humans is focused on just 10 diseases, a study says.

In the wake of recent virus outbreaks of wildlife origin, such as Hendra virus in Australia, Ebola virus in West Africa, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus in the Arabian Peninsula, more research must focus on diseases that can spread from wildlife to livestock to evaluate risks and improve responses to disease epidemics in animals and humans, the study noted.

“Often we do not prioritise animal health until it impacts on human health, which means we miss the opportunity to manage diseases at the source,” said study co-author Siobhan Mor from the University of Sydney.

“In the case of emerging diseases, we tend to react to large outbreaks of disease in humans, rather than preventing or managing the infection in animals, likely because we still do not know a lot about the role of these microbes in the ecology of wildlife and livestock disease,” Mor said.

The research based on an analysis of almost 16,000 publications spanning the last century, paints one of the most detailed pictures to date of major infectious diseases shared between wildlife and livestock.

The results, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), showed the bulk of published research over the past century has focused on known zoonoses — diseases that are shared between animals and humans — to the detriment of studies on diseases — affecting only animals.

“We know far less about the range of diseases that impact on animal health and welfare. This is particularly true for wildlife, which remains very poorly funded,” said study co-author Anke Wiethoelter from University of Sydney.

“Paradoxically, this also means we know less about the diseases that could be a precursor to infectious diseases in humans,” Wiethoelter added.

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