Location: Bahia, Brazil
Species: Golden-headed lion tamarins, maned sloths, yellow-breasted capuchins and mosquitos
How it all began…
In 2015, Dr. Lilian Catenacci, a wildlife veterinarian, came to the Institute for Conservation Medicine (ICM) to work with our team to improve her knowledge and skills in the holistic approach of conservation medicine. Dr. Sharon Deem served as Dr. Catenacci’s advisor on her Ph.D. dissertation, “One Health Approach to Arbovirus Surveillance in the Atlantic Forest, Brazil.” Dr. Catenacci successfully defended her dissertation in 2017. She is currently based in Bahia, Brazil and continues to lead this project in collaboration with institutions in Brazil, Belgium, and the USA, and with continual support from the ICM.
Arbovirus is short for arthropod-borne virus, which is a virus that can be transmitted to animals and humans by arthropods such as mosquitos and ticks. In Brazilian forests, a major vector (a carrier that transfers an infective agent from one host to another) is the mosquito.
If you had opened up any news site in 2017, you probably read an article on the Zika virus. Zika virus, yellow fever, dengue, West Nile, and chikungunya are all types of arboviruses that affect both animals and humans. Zika virus infection has caused many cases of microcephaly in human babies in Brazil and abroad. Microcephaly is a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age.
However, you might not know that arboviruses such as Zika or yellow fever are very harmful to wildlife in Brazil. During the 2017 yellow fever outbreak in Brazilian monkeys, there were over 642 confirmed cases.
In Brazil, many people are becoming sick with yellow fever, Zika and other arboviruses.
Brazilian Health Ministry, 2016-2017 reports:
Human Arbovirus Statistics in Brazil
Microcephaly in babies
Yellow Fever Virus
The endemic monkeys and sloths found nowhere else in the world are also becoming sick. If Brazil loses these mammals to disease, the whole ecosystem will be off balance.
The loss of species (biodiversity) is also a public health problem. Fewer animals means mosquitos will need to find another food source and share these diseases. Not only are animals getting sick from disease, but people are killing animals, believing that the source of the virus and their own illnesses are from theseanimals, which is untrue. The animals are not the bad guys.
Dr. Catenacci has been studying these animals and their viruses in the Atlantic forests in Brazil. She is testing mosquitos, primates, sloths, and even people for exposure to these deadly arboviruses so we may better understand how they are all connected.
Conservation medicine isn’t just about the science. Our team works hard to provide outreach within the local communities on the conservation work . Dr. Catenacci and her team have developed educational material for students and adults on arboviruses that affect them. They provide outreach to local schools to teach students why saving the primates and sloths will help keep the forest and its people healthy. While the ICM’s research often focuses on wildlife, human health is equally important in our work. Dr. Catenacci is working with local health and environmental professionals to educate them and their clients on the best practices for keeping people safe from these viruses without harming wildlife. The network developed around this project will help with quick response to any future outbreaks in this region of Brazil.
Our goals are to determine which arboviruses are present in Bahia State, Brazil, and which ones can be can be shared between animals and humans. We also provide veterinary and wildlife management guidelines to local communities to better identify future arbovirus outbreaks and provide the best practices to mitigate these outbreaks and minimize effects if they occur. Through public outreach, we educate the local people about the importance of maintaining biodiversity in the forests for human health.
Since 2015, Dr. Catenacci and her team have:
- Tested 7,699 mosquitoes, comprising 51 species, for arboviruses
- Found 14 arboviruses in animals of the Brazilian Atlantic forests (11 of these are common)
- Found 15 arboviruses in people living among the forests
- Found five arboviruses in mosquitos and 18 other unknown viruses
- Provided educational outreach to 11 local communities on how to keep animals and humans safe from arboviruses
- Provided training to health and environmental services in Brazil to improve biosecurity and provide better testing for these diseases in people