Influenza viruses, smallpox virus and Co.
Over 220 scientists met on 7 and 8 October at the National Symposium for Zoonoses Research 2009 in Berlin for an interdisciplinary scientific exchange.
In order to effectively prevent and control influenza and other infectious diseases transmitted between animals and humans, the various disciplines involved must cooperate intensively and even more closely than before. "We are therefore very pleased that more than 200 scientists* are taking the opportunity to maintain and intensify scientific and personal exchange at the National Symposium on Zoonoses Research". emphasized Dr. Gabriele Hausdorf, Head of Division Health Research at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in her welcome address on 7 October at the start of the National Symposium on Zoonoses Research 2009.
"Especially the appearance of a completely new influenza virus with the subtype H1N1 in humans this year makes the importance of joint research activities particularly clear again," said Prof. Dr. Stephan Ludwig (Westphalian Wilhelm University of Münster), one of the three site managers of the newly founded National Research Platform for Zoonoses. For example, the interdisciplinary FluResearchNet, which has been funded by the BMBF since 2008, has already been able to develop a new strategy to avoid the development of resistance of influenza pathogens. This is of particular relevance against the background of increasing resistance of pathogen strains worldwide.
Despite all the excitement about influenza viruses, other pathogens can also become a danger to humans and were the topic of the symposium. For example, Q fever is on the rise in various European countries, including Germany: "The pathogen is the bacterium Coxiella burnetii, which is transmitted from cattle, sheep or goats to humans," explained PD Dr. Heinrich Neubauer (Friedrich Loeffler Institute, Jena site), who heads the Q fever research network. According to the findings of this research network, the rate of infected persons in regions with an increased sheep population is up to 18 percent. "The pathogen is mainly transmitted by inhaling infectious dust or direct contact with infected animals. The infected persons are not only agricultural workers, but also walkers whose path leads past past pastures," said Neubauer. The increase in the number of cases is particularly drastic in the Netherlands, where 2,100 cases have been reported since the beginning of 2009. In order to effectively counteract the increase in Q-fever infections, intensive data collection, improvements in diagnostics or the development of effective vaccines are urgently required.
The Consilliar Laboratory for Smallpox Viruses at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has also been keeping a close eye on the increasing incidence of cowpox infections in the last two years, which are obviously spread by "cuddly" and "feed rats". In his lecture, Dr. Andreas Nitsche (RKI) explained how cowpox infections in humans and animals have been detected in private households and zoos at various locations in Germany. He pointed out that young people in particular are susceptible to infection. He said that research is currently underway to find out whether these frequent infections are related to the abolition of smallpox vaccination around 30 years ago and a corresponding decrease in immunity to smallpox viruses in the population.
"In terms of content, we are covering a broad spectrum from current national measures and research projects to the latest results on the epidemiology, immunity and diagnostics of zoonotic infectious diseases and new methods and tools that can support the analysis of the pathogen genomes or the exact diagnosis," said Prof. Dr. Martin Groschup (Friedrich Loeffler Institute, Insel Riems site). Prof. Groschup is one of the three coordinators of the newly founded National Research Platform for Zoonoses, which is organising the symposium, thus continuing the tradition of the zoonoses workshops that the BMBF held in 2007 and 2008.
The National Research Platform for Zoonoses started its BMBF-funded work in early 2009. "Our goal is close cooperation between biomedical basic research, human and veterinary medicine on the one hand and university and non-university research on the other," explained Sebastian C. Semler (TMF e.V., Berlin), who coordinates the platform at the Berlin site. "The scientists control the joint work, content and orientation of the zoonoses platform themselves and thus have an instrument with which they can react quickly and flexibly to urgent research needs arising from current demands on science".
The central steering committee, the Internal Advisory Board, was therefore elected by the plenum at the symposium to represent zoonoses researchers* in Germany and to manage the activities of the National Research Platform for Zoonoses for the coming year. In accordance with the statutes, the election took place in three rounds of voting, so that the new Internal Advisory Board consists of representatives of the BMBF-funded zoonoses associations, a representative of the zoonoses projects funded by the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV) and other scientists with a broad spectrum of expertise in the field of zoonoses research. Further information on the Internal Advisory Board can be found here.
The press conference and the press release on the National Symposium on Zoonoses Research 2009 received a great response. Among other things, Volkart Wildermuth reported on two different programmes on Deutschlandfunk radio about new strategies for fighting influenza and the spread of Q-fever. In addition, the symposium was used by various media to report on zoonoses.
The National Symposium on Zoonoses Research 2010 will take place on 7 and 8 October 2010 in Berlin!