New study set to combat spread of diseases from animals to humans

Published: 13 September 2011

University researchers have received substantial funding for a groundbreaking new study which will help to prevent the transmission of fever-causing illnesses between livestock and people in northern Tanzania.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow have received substantial funding for a groundbreaking new study which will help to prevent the transmission of fever-causing illnesses between livestock and people in northern Tanzania.

The project is one of three to receive a share of £3.5m in funding from Ecology of Infectious Diseases Initiative by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK and the US National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health in the United States.

The £534,000 project will investigate the transmission of three fever-causing bacteria which together account for 11 times more admissions to hospitals in the area than malaria. Currently, very little is known about how leptospirosis, Q fever and brucellosis are transmitted between animals and spread to humans.

It is estimated that around 75% of recently-emerging diseases are ‘zoonoses’, infections which can be transmitted between animals and humans and pose a serious threat to both human health and global food security.

Professor Sarah Cleaveland, of the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, said: “This is the first time that an integrated study of the impact and social ecology of bacterial zoonoses has been undertaken. It has a great deal of potential to save lives, reduce suffering and improve the quality of life of local people.

“In addition to causing harm to humans, zoonoses can have a major impact on livestock production, causing reproductive problems and loss of milk production.

“Given that most households in Tanzania are heavily reliant for livestock for food, income, and social capital, these diseases can have a devastating impact.

 “We’ll be working with well-established medical, veterinary, ecology and social research groups in Tanzania to ensure that we can build the fullest picture possible of how these diseases are spread.”

Experts from the University’s veterinary medicine and geography departments will work together with local organisations to examine a wide spectrum of factors which lead to the spread of disease and develop methods which could help control and prevent infection. The project will also involve support from academics at Duke University in North Carolina.

The project will examine three distinct environments in Tanzania, with differing levels of interaction between people, livestock and wildlife. The team will gather data from areas on the edges of cities, agricultural areas and areas where livestock are raised.

Professor Jo Sharp, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, said: “There are many factors to take into account when considering how disease is spread. People living in different areas have different interactions with livestock, and the livestock have different levels of exposure to wildlife which might be carrying disease.

“We’ll be speaking directly to local people in each of these areas to find out more about their livelihoods and the ways in which they work with livestock. We’ll also be speaking to health officers and representatives of community organisations about the current levels of understanding about the spread of disease.

“We’re aiming able to build a more complete understanding of the knowledge people have about the risks of infection from animal contact, their sources of information, and the nature of the different diseases which could affect them and their livestock.”

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, said “Infectious diseases are a global problem that requires a coordinated international solution. By bringing together the expertise of a diverse range of scientists in the UK and US, these projects will help farmers and officials in the developing world manage the threat of disease.

“Many important emerging diseases are transmitted to people from animals, so combating the spread of infectious diseases in animals is doubly useful: it improves animal health helping to ensure global food security and guards against human disease.”

Professor Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council, said: “Addressing the social and economic implications of infectious diseases, alongside the biological implications, is essential to developing a comprehensive understanding of this key global challenge.

“This trans-Atlantic initiative creates an opportunity for the best UK social scientists to collaborate with the best researchers from the US, and for them to inform the development of strategies to help health professionals and policy makers within and beyond the UK to combat existing and emerging diseases.”

For more information contact Ross Barker in the University of Glasgow Media Relations Office on 0141 330 3535 or email


Notes to Editors


  • The University of Glasgow was the joint top rated University in Scotland in the 2011 National Students Survey, and joint seventh in the UK.

First published: 13 September 2011