Zoonoses: rapid assessments of public health risks are critical

300 scientists and public health experts active in human and veterinary medicine meet in Berlin to strengthen interdisciplinary collaboration

15 October 2015. The swift evaluation of potential health hazards is a key task for public health agencies. This is especially true of zoonoses, i.e. diseases that can be transmitted between humans and animals. As Dr Andrea Ammon (from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, ECDC), explained today in her keynote address at the 2015 German National Symposium for Zoonoses Research in Berlin: “Rapid risk assessments are critical whenever there is an outbreak of known or novel zoonoses – especially when the information available is incomplete.” The Symposium offers 300 research scientists and public heath experts from the fields of human and veterinary medicine the opportunity to exchange insights.

The ECDC regularly compiles risk assessments for the European population. The danger posed by a communicable disease depends on multiple factors. Certain attributes of a population (e.g. its density) may make it more predisposed to infection. In addition, the disease’s contagiousness plays a role. But how can this risk be best assessed, and quickly? “Whenever we gain new insights, risk assessments are updated. This provides the basis for transparency regarding the potential hazard. Moreover, it enables documentation of what has already been established and of what remains unknown at the time of assessment,” noted Ammon. A methodology published by the ECDC provides a structured approach for generating this kind of risk assessment.

For the first time, the Zoonoses Symposium is being organised jointly with public health agencies. In the past, there have been too few forums for exchange between research experts and public health professionals. The Symposium provides a platform for jointly defining the research criteria needed to effectively evaluate the risk posed by new or recurring zoonoses. In particular, the event is an opportunity to identify criteria with direct relevance to real-world needs, and to explore ways to enable greater involvement of public health agencies in research projects. Dr Ute Teichert and Dr Jürgen Rissland from the German Association of Public Health Practitioners (BVÖGD) quote Willy Brandt’s famous observation of the two Germanys: “What belongs together, grows together” (Es wächst zusammen, was zusammengehört) – observing that this also applies to the topics of zoonoses and public health.

In her keynote address at the start of the conference, Professor Caroline Herr (from the Bavarian Agency for Health and Food Safety) underlined how pathogens can be released into the environment via ventilation systems for livestock sheds. The environmental medicine assessment of the corresponding health risk is based on calculations of the pathogen’s propagation. However, the results of these theoretical computations may differ significantly from the measurements taken on-site once the ventilation system is in actual operation. As a result, experts in environmental medicine believe it may be necessary to also monitor relevant parameters in nearby residential areas.


Interdisciplinary approach is crucial to mitigating antibiotic resistance

The German Research Platform for Zoonoses will continue to place focus on collaboration between human and veterinary medicine experts – for example, within the scope of combatting antibiotic resistance. “Everyone is doing something, but we are not yet working together,” emphasised Professor Martin Groschup (from the Friedrich Loeffler Institute; Riems, Greifswald, Germany), following the presentation of measures for researching and curbing antibiotic resistance across a variety of areas. “In future, an interdisciplinary approach involving human and veterinary medicine experts, and close collaboration between research organisations and public health agencies, will be crucial.”


Major airports key to the spread of disease

A further important factor is the increasing mobility of people and goods. This has a critical impact on the propagation of zoonotic pathogens. On the second day of the conference, Professor René Gottschalk (from the Frankfurt Health Agency) will discuss the role that international airports play in spreading highly pathogenic diseases. As he noted before the start of the conference, “Infectious diseases caused by highly pathogenic agents are, basically without exception, imported via airports.”  

Additional information



German Research Platform for Zoonoses: Dr Ilia Semmler
Tel.: +49 (0)30 2200 24772 | E-Mail

Contact for public relations: Antje Schütt | Tel.: +49 (0)30 2200 24731
or +49 (0)173 6141663 | E-Mail


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