Centre for Public Health, Zoonoses Launched

May 04, 2009 - News Release

A one-of-a-kind centre aimed at preventing and controlling emerging animal-related diseases that threaten public health has officially opened at the University of Guelph.

The Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses brings together scientists in a variety of fields to address new or re-emerging zoonotic diseases (those that can jump between animals and humans) such as the H1N1 flu virus, bird flu, E. coli 0157:H7 and West Nile virus.

Based at Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College, it involves some 40 scientists from across U of G, as well as a wide group of collaborators from government agencies and industry.

"This groundbreaking centre was established in recognition of OVC's strong tradition in research and education in animal-related aspects of public health and extensive collaborative partnerships," said OVC dean Elizabeth Stone.

Today's official opening was held at the OVC Lifetime Learning Centre, the event featured talks by leaders from around the country on the challenges and opportunities facing public health.

The Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses is directed by Jan Sargeant, a professor in OVC's Department of Population Medicine and the holder of a $1-million Applied Public Health Chair from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Forces such as globalization have made zoonotic diseases a major public health threat worldwide, said Sargeant, and veterinarians are uniquely equipped to investigate and come up with solutions.

"Up to 75 per cent of emerging diseases that pose a threat to human health originate in animal populations, whether it's avian flu or new strains of antibiotic-resistant 'superbugs,'" she said.

"We have an important role to play in developing knowledge and expertise in this area and integrating them in the public health system."

The centre will promote research and collaborations in a variety of disciplines, including food-animal diseases such as E. coli O157:H7 (which is what caused the Walkerton water crisis), companion-animal infections and wildlife zoonoses such as West Nile virus.

Integrating research and surveillance efforts is expected to help in predicting problems and in enhancing understanding and control of infectious diseases that people can acquire from animals.

Additional information about the Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses is available online.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338/lhunt@uoguelph.ca, or Barry Gunn, Ext. 56982/bagunn@uoguelph.ca.

University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1