Ecology of infectious diseases grants awarded

September 15, 2004

Arlington, Va.--The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have announced funding for six projects under the Ecology of Infectious Diseases (EID) program, the fifth year of funding in this multi-year effort.

The joint program supports efforts to understand the ecological and biological mechanisms that govern relationships between human -induced environmental changes and the emergence and transmission of infectious diseases.

Interdisciplinary projects funded through the EID program will study how large-scale environmental events--such as habitat destruction, biological invasion and pollution--alter the risks of viral, parasitic and bacterial diseases emerging in humans and animals. "Over the past 20 years, unprecedented rates of change in non human biodiversity have coincided with the emergence and re emergence of numerous infectious diseases around the world," said Sam Scheiner, EID program director at NSF. "The coincidence of broad-scale environmental changes and the emergence of infectious diseases may point to underlying and predictable ecological relationships."

Yet both basic and applied research in infectious disease ecology has been largely piecemeal, said Scheiner. According to infectious disease specialists and ecologists, the potential benefits of an interdisciplinary research program in this area include: development of disease transmission theory; improved understanding of unintended health effects of development projects; increased capacity to forecast outbreaks; and improved understanding of how diseases emerge and re-emerge. Previous research looked only at diseases after they reached humans or only at non-human animals. The EID program links those different components to produce a comprehensive understanding of disease transmission.

"We're trying to put scientists, public health officials and environmental planners in the driver's seat rather than in a reactive mode for disease control," said Josh Rosenthal, program director at NIH's Fogarty International Center, which co-funded the research. The need for increased understanding is being driven by the increased pace of global change, society's greater global mobility and the threat of the deliberate release of disease organisms. By knowing how natural systems work, public health officials can recognize when an outbreak is unnatural. The recent outbreaks of West Nile Virus and SARS show how little is known about the ecology of infectious diseases.

This year's EID awards include studies of the ecology, dynamics and spatial spread of raccoon rabies in places such as Fairfax County, Virginia; the link between marine pathogens and molluscan shellfish; the effects of deforestation on the prevalence of blood-borne pathogens in African rainforest birds; ecological influences on rabies infections in bats; the epidemiological dynamics of cholera; and the eco-epidemiology of disease emergence in urban areas.
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For more information on the EID program, and on this year's EID grant awards, please see: http://www.nsf.gov/bio/pubs/awards/eid.htm

Images available: http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/newsroom/pr_all_img.cfm?ni=15000000000122

Note to journalists: For information on upcoming Lecture on Ecology of Infectious Diseases see: http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/04/ma0428.htm

NSF program contact: Sam Scheiner, 703-292-8481, sscheine@nsf.gov

NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.58 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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