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

News Release

May 22, 2007

New Book Aims to Dispel Myths About Zoonoses

Bird flu. SARS. Mad cow disease. West Nile virus. Ebola. If these and other threats to public health have you feeling a bit like Chicken Little, try not to panic. That’s the main message of a new book by a University of Guelph professor.

In The Chickens Fight Back: Pandemic Panics and Deadly Diseases That Jump From Animals to Humans, David Waltner-Toews aims to disentangle myth from reality about zoonoses, diseases that people get from animals.

A professor in the Department of Population Medicine in Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, Waltner-Toews is the president of Veterinarians Without Borders, Canada, and president of the Network for Ecosystem Sustainability and Health. He is also arts and culture editor for the journal EcoHealth and is a published novelist and poet.

The Chickens Fight Back, which was recently released by Greystone Books, covers the main zoonoses that have attracted recent headlines from SARS, HIV/AIDS and West Nile virus to avian influenza, encephalitis and BSE.

Waltner-Toews also looks at diseases that are less common in North America, including sleeping sickness, Lassa fever, brucellosis and cystic hydatid disease. The book is organized not by disease alone but also by the way diseases are transmitted.

For example, one section discusses things humans get from mammals and bugs, such as plague, Lyme disease and leptospirosis, the most common zoonotic disease in the world. Another section focuses on bird-borne diseases, including West Nile virus and avian flu. Bats, rats and other mammals take the stage with SARS, ebola, hantavirus and rabies.

Waltner-Toews also brings a personal touch to discussing his work around the world as a longtime veterinary epidemiologist. His experiences, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia, have shaped his main thesis: we need to look not at isolated diseases but at entire ecosystems where zoonoses cycle naturally among various hosts, including people.

“We keep saying the public should be better informed. Who’s helping the public to get engaged?,” he says. Waltner-Toews hopes the book will arm readers with information and questions about the health effects of everything from factory farming to filling in a wetland for a housing development.

This fall, Waltner-Toews will publish a second edition of Food, Sex and Salmonella: The Risks of Environmental Intimacy, about the ecological and social context of food-borne diseases, first published in 1992. Also appearing in June is Fear of Landing, a murder mystery based on the author’s experiences in Indonesia in the 1980s.

Prof. David Waltner-Toews
Department of Population Medicine
519 824-4120, Ext. 54745

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982.

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