The majority of emerging infectious diseases originate in wildlife reservoirs and this is especially important in countries where human / wildlie contact is prevalent and disease diagnostics are limited. The risk for zoonotic viral disease presence and emergence increases in geographic areas with higher mammal diversity and ecosystem disruption. This makes Southeast Asia a hotspot for endemic and emerging zoonotic viruses, including those with pandemic potential such as SARS-associated coronavirus and influenza H5N1, as well as those causing regional outbreaks such as Nipah virus and Japanese encephalitis. Myanmar is hypothesized to be a key area for zoonotic viral emergence because its geography encompasses eight unique biodiversity areas that are rich in mammal and avian fauna and because it has recently undergone significant landscape changes through land conversion for agriculture and timber harvesting. Little is known about the types of zoonotic viruses circulating in rural forest communities and the human behaviors associated with wildlife contact that could be contributing to disease burdens. This International Research Scientist Career Development Award (K01) will provide Dr. Tierra Smiley Evans, a Post-doctoral DVM and infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of California Davis, the protected time to investigate zoonotic viral sharing between humans and wildlife within high-risk forest communities in a key biodiversity area of Myanmar. Molecular, serological and behavioral epidemiological approaches will be used to (1) investigate zoonotic virus spillover between wildlife and humans in a key biodiversity corridor and (2) identify key demographic, behavioral, geographic and species contact risk factors for zoonotic viruses in forest communities. The proposed K01 research, mentorship and training will provide Dr. Evans with the opportunity to expand her skills in (1) advanced epidemiological study design to investigate viral transmission dynamics between humans and animals, (2) advanced pathogen discovery including next-generation molecular and serological techniques, (3) applied behavioral epidemiology in an international field setting and (4) incorporating local partners and building lasting scientific collaborations which are essential to successful international research. Dr. Evans will engage in a five-year training program under the primary mentorship of the University of California Davis One Health Institute and Center for Comparative Medicine, the Department of Medical Research (Lower Myanmar) Virology Research Division, and the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University.
Forest regions of Myanmar, where undiagnosed illnesses are common, are likely significant geographic areas for zoonotic viral emergence because of their wildlife biodiversity and recent landscape changes. This study will use advanced pathogen discovery techniques and behavioral epidemiological approaches to investigate known and novel virus sharing between humans and wildlife in high-risk communities within a key biodiversity area of rural Myanmar.