Dr. Richard French: Areas of Expertise

Published on Friday, April 5th, 2013

Richard French, DVM, M.S., Ph.D.

Areas of Expertise

Zoonotic Diseases

Zoonotic diseases are diseases caused by infectious agents that can be transmitted between (or are shared by) animals and humans. Many diseases from influenza to strep to the plaque can be transmitted between the species. With statistics showing that more than half of US households keep pets and/or livestock, its important to have an understanding of the kinds of diseases that can be spread, how they are spread, what took look for and how to protect yourself.

Influenza in humans, pets, and food animals

Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is an infectious disease caused by a virus of the family Orthomyxoviridae (the influenza viruses), that affects birds and mammals. The name influenza is Italian and means “influence”. The disease certainly does influence the body and the world. The ecology of influenza virus is complicated and involved. The Influenza A is the genus that is of most concern. Occasionally, viruses are transmitted to other species and may then cause devastating outbreaks in domestic poultry or give rise to human influenza pandemics. The type A viruses are the most virulent human pathogens among the three influenza types (Influenza A, B, and C) and cause the most severe disease. Your cat, dog, ferret and horse can get the disease. Food animals like chickens and turkeys and pigs can also contract the disease. And our friends in the ocean, whales and other marine mammals can also contract the disease. So, who gets the flu and what does it mean to us – people?

War of the Worlds: Our Worlds are Colliding and Infectious Disease is Winning

Collectively, infectious diseases are the second leading cause of death globally, following cardiovascular disease, but among young people infections are overwhelmingly the leading cause of death. As we eradicate diseases such as polio and smallpox, something else emerges and takes their place. This is the nature of the perpetual challenge of infectious diseases. We now combat newly emerging diseases, 75% of which are associated with animals – zoonoses, and many are of our own creation. Multiple factors, including economic development and land use, human demographics and behavior, and international travel and commerce, contribute to the emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases. Almost all of these factors reflect, in some measure, the encroachment of human civilization on the environment and on the microbial species that inhabit our environment. We have perturbed the balance…run…or join the battle.