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Emerging infections and epidemics will pose significant challenges in the decades ahead of us. The increase of trade and travel activities, combined with societal and economic transformation in many parts of the world will put humans in increased contact with pathogens. Viruses are particularly efficient in finding new hosts by cross-species transmission and adaptation. Outbreaks of SARS, MERS, Avian flu, Ebola and Zika have provided a series of dramatic examples in the recent past. We should focus on viruses that utilize the respiratory route for transmission, or that can make use of special ways of transmission such as by mosquitoes. Most viral epidemics start as zoonotic infections and may thus be detectable and controllable while still in animal reservoirs. The similarities and mutual fertilizations of health research in human- and veterinary medicine define the OneHealth concept – a principle that is particularly applicable to viral diseases.
Our institute coordinates research consortia across these thematic fields. For instance, DFG focus program 1596 deals with ecology and species barriers of emerging viral diseases. The RAPID consortium funded by the German ministry of research and education tries to develop novel approaches to risk assessments in relation to emerging respiratory viruses, exemplified by the MERS agent. RAPID is part of the National Research Network on Zoonotic Infections. Within the German Center for Infection Research, we conceptualize a work program on emerging viruses detection and preparedness. We are members of the European Union consortia COMPARE, dealing with sequencing-based virus surveillance, as well as PREPARE dealing with clinical preparedness against pandemic infections. We are a founding member of the European Virus Archive (EVAg), an EU infrastructure facilitating the provision of reference virus material for research and development purposes.
An essential part of our work is based on collaborative research in tropical countries. As a partner of EU consortium ZikAlliance we deal with major epidemiological features of the Zika epidemic in South America. The mentioned DFG focus program conducts field work in Panama. The institute is represented with several projects in the DFG Africa Infectious Diseases program (projects in Ghana, South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya) and hosts a junior group on ecology and emergence of arboviruses that works in Uganda. This group is also a member of a collaborative research center (CRC/TR228 Future Rurual Africa) at the universities of Cologne and Bonn. Our groups are continuously developing new research activities in the African and American tropics.
The detection of real or perceived threats by epidemics is gaining enormous relevance for society. In a time of mobility, simplification and change, we need the whole power of the scientific community to provide explanations to society and tools to public health. Here at Charité, Europe´s largest academic medical center, we are committed to making a significant contribution.