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Visit by King focuses on increased knowledge of zoonoses

July 19, 2022

During an informal working visit to NIOO-KNAW on Wednesday 6 July, His Majesty the King was informed about how ecological knowledge can contribute to understanding and predicting outbreaks of zoonotic infectious diseases.

During a roundtable discussion, Henk van der Jeugd, head of the Bird Migration Station of the NIOO-KNAW, stressed the importance of surveillance of wild birds, which can be hosts of diseases such  as highly pathogenic avian influenza and West Nile virus. The surveillance of wild birds is carried out by well-trained volunteer bird ringers and is a joint effort of Erasmus MC, the Ringers Association and NIOO-KNAW. With surveillance, circulation can be demonstrated at an early stage so that adequate measures can be taken. Surveillance has already provided important information on the occurrence of two new mosquito-borne infectious diseases in the Netherlands: Usutu virus (as of 2016) and West Nile virus (in 2020).

His Majesty the King, Picture by Milette Raats, KNAW

Chairman of the Ringers Association, Tijs van den Berg, emphasised that such large-scale surveillance cannot be carried out without the efforts of hundreds of volunteers, but expressed concerns about its continuity. "The surveillance provides crucial information on infectious diseases that can pose a public health risk, but it is not currently guaranteed with government funding. Setting up and coordinating research projects by scientific institutes guarantees good scientific anchoring, but in the longer term, surveillance will have to be financed by the national government".

His Majesty the King, picture by Milette Raats, KNAWErasmus MC researcher Reina Sikkema emphasised that this surveillance will probably become even more important in the future, because an increase in the number of different infectious diseases transmitted by mosquitoes is expected. The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated natural deltas, where people, birds and domesticated animals live in close proximity to each other, making it a potential hotspot for infectious diseases. The consequences of climate change will also further influence our landscape, with an increase in saline, wet nature expected, particularly in the lowest-lying areas. "Where this is close to urban areas, it can result in an additional risk of infection with infectious diseases, and this risk must therefore be taken into account in the design of an area".

For more information on current and future research projects in this field, please visit: www.onehealthpact.org and PDPC.

Pictures by Milette Raats, KNAW