Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

May 03, 2006

New Centre to Focus on Public Health, Zoonoses

Preventing and controlling emerging animal-related diseases that threaten public health is the key goal of a one-of-a-kind centre to be based at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC).

The Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses will bring together scientists to enhance research and more closely link researchers and agencies involved in addressing new or re-emerging diseases such as bird flu, SARS, E. coli 0157:H7 and West Nile virus.

Forces such as globalization have made such zoonotic diseases a major public health threat worldwide, said retired pathobiology professor Carlton Gyles, who helped organize the centre.

Far from merely reacting to headlines about SARS or bird flu, “we’re responding to the recognition that emerging or re-emerging infections that threaten human populations have an animal basis and that we have an important role to play in developing knowledge and expertise in this area and integrating them in the public health system,” he said.

Research in this area has long occurred at Guelph, but the new body will bring greater co-ordination to those efforts. Integrating research and surveillance efforts is expected to help in predicting problems and making the right decisions to tackle or head off threats.

“Because of the dramatic and increasing convergence of human and animal infectious diseases that we’re seeing recently, we really need a new global infectious disease workforce that gets away from the disciplinary and sectoral boundaries that may have limited us in the past,” said Prof. John Prescott, chair of the Department of Pathobiology. “We believe the centre will be important Ontario response to the new dynamic of global infectious disease.”

While the new centre won’t preclude the next SARS or flu epidemic, Gyles said it’s important to have systems in place to handle public health scares, despite naysayers who may question the seriousness of such threats and the resources devoted to thwarting them. “As soon as there’s a crisis, the same people tell you how badly prepared you were.”

The centre will include 10 principal members from OVC and some 40 collaborators from various campus departments and other universities, including McMaster, Trent, Brock and Montreal. Scientists will focus on food-animal diseases (E. coli, bird flu, swine flu), companion-animal infections (pets in hospital visits), wildlife zoonoses (West Nile virus, leptospirosis) and crosscutting epidemiological studies on zoonotic and enteric infections.

Another goal of the centre is to increase public awareness of OVC’s research and teaching roles in animal-related public health, and to provide teaching opportunities. “It’s important to put a spotlight on what we do because that will enhance our ability to better understand and control infectious diseases that people can acquire from animals,” Gyles said.

“We are the only veterinary school with expertise and resources in animal-related health research. Other institutions are focused on other aspects of public health.”

Prof. John Prescott
Department of Pathobiology, OVC
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 54453

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, Ext. 56982.

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