A new on-line map makes it possible, for the first time, to track disease outbreaks around the world that threaten the health of wildlife, domestic animals, and people.
Updated daily, the map displays pushpins marking stories of wildlife diseases such as West Nile virus, avian influenza, chronic wasting disease, and monkeypox. Users can browse the latest reports of nearly 50 diseases and other health conditions, such as pesticide and lead poisoning, by geographic location. Filters make it easy to focus on different disease types, affected species, countries, and dates.
The map is a product of the Wildlife Disease Information Node (WDIN), a five-year-old collaboration between UW-Madison and two federal agencies, the National Wildlife Health Center and the National Biological Information Infrastructure, that are part of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). WDIN is housed within the university's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the USGS.
A powerful feature of the wildlife disease map is its ability to tap into the WDIN's large and growing electronic library of information from around the globe.
"If you click on the name of a particular disease, it takes you to our main Web site and does a quick search of everything that we have on that topic," said Cris Marsh, a librarian who oversees the wildlife disease news services for the WDIN.
State and federal wildlife managers, animal disease specialists, veterinarians, medical professionals, educators, and private citizens will all find the new map useful for monitoring wildlife disease, adds Marsh.
Ultimately, the WDIN seeks to provide a comprehensive online wildlife disease information warehouse, according to project leader Josh Dein, a veterinarian with the Madison-based USGS National Wildlife Health Center.
"People who collect data about wildlife diseases don't currently have an established communication network, which is something we're working to improve," said Dein. "But just seeing what's attracting attention in the news gives us a much better picture of what's out there than we've ever had before."
Concerns about the emergence and spread of diseases that can pass between species have forged new links in recent years between wildlife health, human health, and domestic animal health professionals.
"It all ties in together, the 'One-World, One-Health' idea," said Marsh. "The West Nile virus acted as one of the catalysts for that connection. People in different areas in the eastern U.S. began to see isolated incidences of dead and dying crows that seemed abnormally high, but nobody knew other areas were experiencing the same thing."
Because West Nile virus also affects humans and other mammals, it became apparent to scientists that disease outbreaks of this kind need to be addressed as quickly as possible, explains Marsh. Outbreaks of monkeypox and highly pathogenic avian influenza soon afterward underscored the importance of linking information about emerging diseases across all species.
"If scientists share with one another the information they're collecting on the patterns of diseases like these, we can respond to outbreaks much more efficiently," says Marsh.
Besides providing news services, WDIN collaborates with a wide variety of public and private entities to gather and provide access to important wildlife disease data. Because of the global significance of these diseases, WDIN encourages others to become involved with the project.
"The more information we can link," said Marsh, "the more robust our service becomes."