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Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Infectious Diseases
Volume 2011 (2011), Article ID 741406, 6 pages

It Takes a Community to Raise the Prevalence of a Zoonotic Pathogen

1Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Leidy Laboratories 209, 433 South University Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6018, USA
2Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Arizona, BioSciences West room 310, 1041 E. Lowell St., Tucson, AZ, USA
3Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Box AB, Millbrook, NY 12545, USA

Received 28 January 2011; Revised 18 July 2011; Accepted 7 September 2011

Copyright © 2011 Dustin Brisson et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


By definition, zoonotic pathogens are not strict host-species specialists in that they infect humans and at least one nonhuman reservoir species. The majority of zoonotic pathogens infect and are amplified by multiple vertebrate species in nature, each of which has a quantitatively different impact on the distribution and abundance of the pathogen and thus on disease risk. Unfortunately, when new zoonotic pathogens emerge, the dominant response by public health scientists is to search for a few, or even the single, most important reservoirs and to ignore other species that might strongly influence transmission. This focus on the single “primary” reservoir host species can delay biological understanding, and potentially public health interventions as species important in either amplifying or regulating the pathogen are overlooked. Investigating the evolutionary and ecological strategy of newly discovered or emerging pathogens within the community of potential and actual host species will be fruitful to both biological understanding and public health.