AAHL has evolved over the years to keep pace with disease trends. We now work to find solutions to infectious diseases affecting people as well as animals.
The risk of a pandemic that could affect the lives of millions of people world-wide is very real.
Over the past three decades we have witnessed a rise in the incidence of emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) in humans, with around 70 per cent of these EIDs being zoonotic in nature – that is they can be passed from animals to people. Examples include highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses, coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS, and Hendra virus.
Several factors have contributed to this increased incidence of outbreaks. The recent growth and geographic expansion of human populations and the intensification of agriculture has resulted in a greater risk of EIDs being transmitted to people from wildlife and domesticated animals.
Moreover, increased global travel means there is a greater likelihood that these new infectious agents can rapidly spread among the human population.
Together, these factors have increased the risk of pandemics – it's not so much a matter of if, but when.
The One Health concept
One Health recognises that human, animal and ecosystem health are inextricably linked.
A better understanding of host-pathogen interactions (ie. how a virus behaves in various animal or human hosts) will help lead to faster, more sensitive diagnostic and surveillance tools that may radically change the risk management of EIDs within Australia and globally.
Our research in this area is focused on the development of new vaccines, anti-viral therapeutics and development of disease-resistant animals to break the chain of virus transmission and limit the wide ranging impacts that a new disease can have in our closely interconnected and highly mobile world.
While AAHL was built essentially as an animal health laboratory, and continues to work to protect Australia's livestock industry, we are increasingly working on both animal and human infectious diseases.
There is a growing acceptance of the importance of One Health and over the past few years our work in this area has increased as new zoonotic diseases emerge.
To help manage these new disease threats we have increased our PC4 laboratory capacity with the opening of the NCRIS-funded PC4 Zoonosis Suite and Bioimaging Facility. We have also built a new PC3 Insectary to research Australia's emerging insect-borne diseases.
The Director of AAHL now works closely with Australia's Chief Veterinary Officer as well as the Chief Medical Officer and a variety of both animal and human health agencies nationally and internationally.
Our challenge is to be prepared to respond to any new emerging infectious diseases that may emerge.