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The Next Epidemic — How Society Aids Disease

• June 07, 2011 • 11:27 AM

Are we at greater risk now from massive disease outbreaks? It’s a vital question after a wave of deadly E. coli infections in Germany has put hundreds in the hospital and killed more than 20. Disease ecologist Sadie Ryan explains how societal changes are aiding the bugs.

One reason that E. coli kills so many — in the industrialized world as well as less-developed areas — is that the bacteria is found across mammals and birds. If livestock are infected by a lethal strain of E. coli, it only takes one round of undercooked meat for the infection to spread like wildfire to people.

In fact, the vast majority of human infectious diseases can infect animals as well. And the last few decades have seen the rise of a large number of new virulent diseases — SARS, AIDS, Marburg virus, to name a few — that have animal origins.

Why are so many of these animal-origin diseases popping up now? On this week’s Curiouser & Curiouser podcast, Dr. Sadie Ryan discusses the future of humans, wildlife and disease. Simonovich is an ecologist who specializes on diseases that move back and forth between animals and humans. She talks about the changes in human societies that make new epidemics not just much more likely to emerge, but also much more prone to spread quickly.

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Music used in this edition of Curiouser & Curiouser includes Bring It On Vox by Jamie Miller and Jar Hut by Morusque.

Jai Ranganathan
Dr. Jai Ranganathan is a biologist and his research focuses on questions of species conservation. He can be reached at jai.ranganathan at gmail.com.

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