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Zoonotic diseases continue to lurk the countryside

“The degree of unawareness over zoonosis is large among people and inclusively among professionals we encounter,” said Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) Veterinarian and Ph.D. in Public Health Ángela Natalia Agudelo Suárez, who discovered that 70% of the zoonosis were caused by wild animals, not domestic animals.

Agudelo says that rabies is mainly produced by blood-sucking bats and not so much by dogs and cats, as frequently seen in newscasts.

“The case of toxoplasmosis is concerning as people are unaware what is toxoplasma or how it is transmitted; the indications given to pregnant women is that they need to take the cat out of the house as the hair can cause toxoplasmosis, and this is not true,” she said.

Years ago it was proved that toxoplasma was transmitted through cat feces and may be contracted if pregnant women enter in contact with cat feces, they do not wash their hands and later consume food with dirty hands.

“The solution is not throwing out the cat, as this causes a greater public health issue.” The problem could change with a change in attitude, when we understand that zoonosis is a problem for us all and not only a vet issue but for many other disciplines, including healthcare. Zoonotic diseases are transmitted from one species to another, for instance from animals to humans and vice versa.

Rabies in farms

“There is still jungle rabies, as researchers have discovered that now there is more contact between blood-sucking bats and domestic animals and cattle, an issue which has not been properly addressed and this is why the problem continues to escalate,” said Agudelo.

The problem in rural areas is that bats are present in farms. “The gaps between urban and non-urban settings are not easily identifiable and interaction between wild and domestic species is increasingly tighter,” said Agudelo, who also proposes to go to the countryside and begin vaccinating animals.

The Colombian provinces with greater zoonosis risk are Magdalena, Sucre, Valle del Cauca, Antioquia, and Cundinamarca. In this sense, the factors which determine the differences between the countryside and the city are the capability to identify diseases in animals and humans, vaccination conditions and formulating and implementing public policies.

While some provinces record diseases such as in Cundinamarca, Quindío and Antioquia, others do not have how to notify these cases as they do not have the technology or personnel to do so.

Risks for tainted meat

Consumption of wrongly cooked or tainted meat can produce diseases in humans such as cysticercosis or pork tapeworm infection, a disease caused by swallowing Taenia solium eggs producing neurocysticercosis which impacts the nervous system and produces high morbidity. Self-infection is produced when a person that is already infected ingests eggs by not washing their hands properly. Some of the risk factors include consuming tainted vegetables.

Another threat is the so-called inverted zoonosis which is transmitted from human to animals. “In fact, tuberculosis is a disease which humans can transmit to animals, through bacteria producing non-pulmonary tuberculosis,” said Agudelo.

Lack of appropriate public policies

The epicenter of this research project were public policies. Although the researchers discovered 50 documents, including laws, decrees, rulings, national, municipal or provincial circulars, Decree 2257 of 1986 addresses zoonosis in a general manner, although it does not detail how it should be managed.

In this sense, the research project discovered, “that implementing decisions with operational scope is relatively slow and disperse in areas of zoonosis in the country.” The assessment of these public policies carried out between 1975 and 2014 during a UNal Public Health Inter-faculties doctorate program, blends political studies and public health study methods.

When analyzing them, they established that rabies has concerned society the most for the impact it has, “by applying the most relevant criteria, we discovered that they were not that important for public health,” said Agudelo.

Therefore, despite highlighting achievements such as changing from individualized policies to a great public health policy (PISA, for its Spanish acronym) Agudelo does not consider that public policies have produced the conditions to face the zoonosis issues with efficacy, pertinence, and quality.

In these terms, she says that the capability produced by 230 public policies, whose progress is positive, is still insufficient to face the complexity of zoonosis produced in Colombia.

According to Agudelo, “The main criteria for choosing zoonosis were: 1) Having information; 2) That they represented different types of zoonosis, involving several sectors of society and 3) That zoonosis were produced by microorganisms such as virus, bacteria, and parasites”. These criteria were filtered along with her thesis directors Luis Carlos Villamil Jiménez and André Noël Roth.

The research project which analyzed figures between 1975 and 2014, analyzed 396,000 cases of zoonotic diseases in Colombia in 39 years, of which 158,000 correspond to cases reported by humans and 238,000 in animals.


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