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Predicting zoonotic disease crossover from non-human primates to humans in the Congo Basin

Sesink Clee, PR and Cronin, DT and Mok, TM and Rosenbluth, PT and Harrigan, RJ and Smith, TB and Gonder, MK and Fa, JE (2017) Predicting zoonotic disease crossover from non-human primates to humans in the Congo Basin. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. ISSN 1935-2727 (In Press)

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Abstract

Background 
 The Congo Basin is an epicenter of emerging infectious diseases (EIDs), many of which have 
zoonotic origins. Anthropogenic and demographic changes in Congo Basin countries have 
increased contact between humans and wildlife, thereby multiplying the risk for pathogen 
spillover from animals to humans. Despite these known, substantial risks, public health 
surveillance is lacking in most Congo Basin countries. Identifying zoonotic crossover hotspots 
can be used to focus surveillance and mitigation programs to more effectively prevent or limit 
their impacts on surrounding populations. 
 Methodology 
 We used ecological niche modeling techniques to predict how human settlements, hunting, 
roads, and logging may impact the likelihood of zoonotic crossover events from non-human 
primates to humans across the Congo Basin. We used available data on human Simian Foamy 
Virus (SFV) infections across the region to identify spatial correlations with human activities. 
We then developed predictive models for several pathogens found in chimpanzees (Pan spp.), 
gorillas (Gorilla spp.) and mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx), including Ebola viruses, SFVs, and 
Simian Immunodeficiency Viruses (SIV) from wild non-human priamtes. Finally, we identified 
where human activities overlap areas with the predicted distribution of Ebola, SFVs and SIVs in 
non-human primates to identify areas where the risk of zoonotic events are most likely. 
 Conclusions 
 Bushmeat hunting in close proximity to roads, active logging sites, and protected areas are most 
highly correlated with zoonotic crossover events from animals to humans. Northeastern Gabon 
and adjacent areas of Cameroon and Republic of Congo are high-risk zoonotic crossover areas 
due to high hunting pressure in active logging concessions and in protected areas where 
predicted non-human primate pathogen infection is high. Detailed studies about disease 
transmission at fine geographic scales, public outreach campaigns and better enforcement of 
wildlife laws are all needed to help limit disease spread to local human populations.

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