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Cornell: How Studying Diseases in Dogs Can Help Prevent Future Human Epidemics

By Patricia Waldron

In 1978, dogs around the world began dying from parvovirus, a disease that was completely unknown before that time. In the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of people contracted a new and deadly virus, HIV. One thing these outbreaks have in common is that both viruses jumped from another animal into a new host. Parvovirus moved from a host related to cats, possibly to another wild animal, before infecting dogs. HIV circulated in chimpanzees before a person picked up the virus, which initiated the epidemic in humans.

Viruses have repeatedly found ways to infect and spread within new host species, whether in humans or other animals. Dr. Colin Parrish, the John M. Olin Professor of Virology at the Baker Institute is studying the ways that viruses, specifically parvovirus and influenza, have been able to move between different animal species and spread within dog populations. “The things we are learning about viruses in dogs have a basic application for understanding how a different virus might emerge in humans to cause an epidemic,” said Parrish. “There’s nothing special about infecting humans if you’re a virus.”

When studying global pandemics, dog viruses offer many advantages over human ones. Parrish’s lab members face a much lower risk of being infected by a canine virus. Since they are so widespread, his lab can receive samples from veterinarians and shelters, and observe a virus’ evolution while outbreaks are in progress. They can also look retroactively at how changes in a virus’ genetic code enabled the virus to jump to a new host species, and recognize the ways that it spread to explain new or worsening outbreaks.

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Posted by on Jun 12 2019. Filed under Health & Training. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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  • September 2019