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Major disease outbreaks around world becoming more common

Major outbreaks of disease have become more common around the globe in the past 40 years, according to the largest ever investigation into emerging infections. Image: Ebola spreads

Diseases such as Ebola and Sars, which originally spread from animals, are an increasing threat to human health, and many infections have now become resistant to antibiotics, researchers said.

The international team of scientists warned that tropical regions are likely to become a future hotspot for new diseases, and called for early warning systems to be set up in countries to spot outbreaks before they become unmanageable.

Researchers from the Zoological Society of London, the Wildlife Trust and Columbia University analysed databases of outbreaks and found 335 cases of emerging diseases between 1940 and 2004. Of these, 60.3% were infections which also affected animals, and 71.8% were known to have triggered disease in humans after spreading from wildlife.

The research, published in Nature, identifies "hotspots" where new diseases are expected to come from wildlife, driven by the proximity of dense human populations and high levels of biodiversity.

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