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Research Project: Characterization of Risk for Emerging High-consequence Zoonoses in Liberia

Location: Research Programs

Project Number: 3022-32000-018-034-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Sep 1, 2023
End Date: Aug 31, 2026

This project directly addresses the 2022-2027 Animal Health National Program (NP 103) Action Plan: 1) Component 1: Biodefense, Problem Statement 1A, Control and eradicate foreign animal diseases and Problem Statement 1B: Predict and prevent emerging diseases. As well as ARS Strategic Plan Goal 4.3 to protect and ensure the safety of the nation’s agriculture and food supply through improved disease detection, prevention, and control. One of the greatest threats to nations livestock is the importation of a foreign disease or the emergence of a novel pathogen. According to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), 50% of livestock losses are due to zoonoses and zoonotic disease result in a much higher rate of animal slaughter. Alteration of the environment through climate change or human disruption contributes to the emergence or re-emergence of diseases. Historically the focus has been on human health, viruses jumping from animals to man, but fallback events or reverse zoonoses and jumps between animal species pose significant threats. With every instance of a viral exposure there is the potential from a jump and emergence of a new threat. The best strategy to prevent outbreaks and pandemics is active surveillance. Unfortunately, data on disease prevalence and incidence is absence for many parts of the world. This project will focus on one country facing changing environments and for which there is an absence of available data on the prevelance of high consequence emerging zoonoses. The trade practice and porous borders will allow some extension of data for the region. Long term it will establish a partnership for USDA and will include a local university partner seeking to establish a first ever one health program for the region.

To partner with the Cooperator for the study of zoonotic and emerging diseases. Liberia remains one of the poorest countries in the world. The 2014 Ebola outbreak decimated a fragile public health system, and the prior civil wars devastated the livestock sectors. Following the outbreak substantial investments were made in human health but minimal investments were made on the animal side. Most livestock are kept in rural villages where animals are allowed to enter the forested areas. Import of animals and materials from surrounding countries is common. Large areas of pastures have been harvested or converted to rice paddies. The harvest of timber is rapidly contributing to deforested areas. The heavy mineral rich soil of the rainforest rapidly become infertile following deforestation. These factors have created an environment with great potential for evolving disease distributions and that may drive the emergence of zoonoses. The absence of a robust public health system increases the probability that detection of new diseases or re-emergent or spreading disease will go undetected. This project will allow us to begin to characterize the prevalence of zoonotic and emerging diseases in the region and to increase capacity for active surveillance in livestock and animals. The project will use a multi prong approach to begin to assess disease prevalence. In the first stages of the project samples will be collected from potential vectors in multiple locations across Liberia. Collection of vectors will include but will not be limited to mosquitoes and ticks. This will be done in partnership with other groups at NBAF. Ticks will be collected from domestic and livestock and from animals in markets. Historical samples of whole blood and plasma, blood samples collected for routine care and diagnostic blood samples from domestic animals and wildlife will also be utilized to investigate the presence of high-risk pathogens. Samples collected from ill animals and/or found dead animals will be prioritized. A combination of approaches will be used including serologic techniques, PCR, and sequencing. In addition, the food or materials contaminated by saliva, other bodily fluid or waste may be collected for testing. By targeting investigation of the vector, domestic animals, and wildlife a more complete picture of the disease burden will begin to take shape. By utilizing banked samples, diagnostic or routine veterinary samples costs will be reduced allowing the data generated to drive future efforts. This project will bring much needed diagnostic capability to the region while providing ARS scientists new potential partners and research sites. Currently there is absence of data to create risk profiles in this region. This project will provide some of the first insights and be a foundation for future efforts.