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Risk Mapping for Avian Influenza: a Social–Ecological Problem

Graeme S. Cumming, Percy FitzPatrick Institute, DST/NRF Centre of Excellence, University of Cape Town

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Abstract

Pathogen dynamics are inseparable from the broader environmental context in which pathogens occur. Although some pathogens of people are primarily limited to the human population, occurrences of zoonoses and vector-borne diseases are intimately linked to ecosystems. The emergence of these diseases is currently being driven by a variety of influences that include, among other things, changes in the human population, long-distance travel, high-intensity animal-production systems, and anthropogenic modification of ecosystems. Anthropogenic impacts on ecosystems have both direct and indirect (food-web mediated) effects. Therefore, understanding disease risk for zoonoses is a social–ecological problem.

The articles in this special feature focus on risk assessment for avian influenza. They include analyses of the history and epidemiological context of avian influenza; planning and policy issues relating to risk; the roles of biogeography and spatial and temporal variation in driving the movements of potential avian influenza carriers; approaches to quantifying risk; and an assessment of risk-related interactions among people and birds in Vietnamese markets. They differ from the majority of published studies of avian influenza in that they emphasize unknowns and uncertainties in risk mapping and societal responses to avian influenza, rather than concentrating on known or proven facts.

From a systems perspective, the different aspects of social–ecological systems that are relevant to the problem of risk mapping can be summarized under the general categories of structural, spatial, and temporal components. I present some examples of relevant system properties, as suggested by this framework, and argue that, ultimately, risk mapping for infectious disease will need to develop a more holistic perspective that includes explicit consideration of the roles of policy, disease management, and feedbacks between ecosystems and societies.

Key words

disease; framework; health; influenza; pathogen; resilience; social–ecological system
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087