Centre for Viral Zoonoses (CVZ)

UP CVZ investigates endemic and emerging zoonotic viral diseases of public health significance in humans, animals and the environment.  The Centre encourages collaborative research involving partners from multiple disciplines within the University of Pretoria but also including regional, national and international collaborators. UP CVZ joins forces of established research groups in arbovirology, bat and other small mammal viral zoonotic diseases, rabies and rabies related lyssaviruses, viral pathology, medical entomology and ecology. The Centre strives to generate new knowledge through surveillance, building diagnostic capacity through innovation, epidemiology, pathology, pathogenesis and ecology of zoonotic pathogens in humans and animals and identify intervention strategies for effective disease control.

For more information, visit the UP CVZ main webpage.


Research focus

Zoonotic emerging diseases

SDG focus areas

Relevance and importance to UP, South Africa and Africa

Globally there is an increase in many infectious diseases; possibly reflecting the combined impacts of rapid demographic, environmental, social, technological and other lifestyle changes. The relationship between humans and animals is a rapidly growing focus of research and clinical application. Conservation medicine refers to multidisciplinary approaches to studying and optimising the relationship between human and animal health and environmental conditions in order to attain optimal health in all three areas.

Livestock agriculture is the most important industry in sub-Saharan Africa, representing 25% of GDP. However, it is heavily constrained by infectious diseases and parasites that increase animal mortality and/or reduce productivity, restrict trade and threaten human health. Of the 15 high impact diseases formerly listed by the OIE as “List A” diseases, ten occur in Africa and many have devastating effects, particularly for the rural poor. Other endemic and parasitic diseases are more insidious, often with no overt symptoms but which nonetheless cause poor growth and productivity.

Most (at least 60 %) zoonotic emerging diseases are of animal origin and many occur in Africa where poor surveillance, infrastructure or control exacerbates the risk to human health. Building on the current strengths, specialized expertise and infrastructure and by addressing the unique South African and African challenges within this sphere, UP has the potential to significantly increase knowledge in this research niche that could translate into education and outreach programmes which are likely to lead to improved quality of life.

The potential benefit to science and to society

In the past 15 years, more than 50% of global emerging diseases originated from Africa. Zoonosis has a strong impact on both animal and human health in the region and a large economic impact on food production, food security and trade in animals and animal products. The societal, health and economic impact of zoonosis has been demonstrated by the current Ebola outbreak in Western Africa with a global impact and estimated cost of 32 billion dollars. To understand and study zoonosis, the complexity of interactions among humans, animals and various environments they live in must be considered. It therefore requires a multidisciplinary approach, which calls for collaboration between natural, medical and veterinary scientists. The SET cluster is ideally positioned close to important collaborative networks (NICD and ARC-OVI) to address questions from a multidisciplinary perspective.

Significant strengths in zoonosis include:

  • Developing Africa’s diagnostic capacity for detection of zoonotic diseases;
  • Surveillance for key zoonotic diseases;
  • Molecular epidemiology of zoonotic diseases including mathematical  epidemiology;
  • Influence of host ecology and environmental factors on disease dynamics; and
  • Development of preventative and treatment biologics for zoonotic diseases.

The SET cluster has a solid strength in zoonosis research and has made significant financial and other contributions to support this. UP staff involved in zoonosis research include two B-rated, seven C-rated and several emerging researchers; over 200 papers have been published in international journals in the past five years. Prof Wanda Markotter is appointed as a NRF-DST South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI) chair in “Animal Infectious Diseases (Zoonosis)”.

Benefits to investing in this research area

Detection of pathogens is just the first step and to understand the risk of spillover to other animals and humans, a multidisciplinary One Health approach focusing on disease ecology that investigates host-pathogen interactions within the context of their environment and studying presence and transmission over space and time. Research includes regular fieldwork in South Africa and other African countries and pathogenicity studies in high bio-containment facilities in the natural host (bats) to also understand the possible routes of transmission to humans and other animals. Our research outputs include the first detection of several potential zoonotic pathogens in bats in geographical areas where no information was previously available and include the collection of data on host ecology and environmental factors that can now be analysed and modelled to determine ecological and host factors that may lead to spillover.



Published by Nicola Vernall

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