Zoonoses – a deadly but fascinating link between animal health and public health 


AAHL (operating since 1985 as the Australian Animal Health Laboratory)

Zoonotic diseases are any disease or infection that originates in animals and is naturally spread to humans. It is estimated that approximately 75% of new disease outbreaks affecting humans in the past decade have been caused by zoonoses. These emerging diseases pose a serious risk both to public health and the economy and look likely to continue increasing. Examples include the bat-borne viruses: SARS, MERS, Ebola virus, Hendra and Nipah viruses; and other zoonosis including Avian Influenza, Dengue and Zika viruses.

AAHL (operating since 1985 as the Australian Animal Health Laboratory) is Australia’s national biocontainment facility, owned and operated by CSIRO on behalf of the nation. The biocontainment infrastructure and scientific expertise enables AAHL to deliver a vital service to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as Australia’s Reference Laboratory for emergency animal diseases and high consequence pathogens of animal origin.

However, the increase in zoonotic emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) has seen global demand for biocontainment laboratory space to enable research on pathogens in risk group 3 and 4. Risk group 4 is the most dangerous virus classification and includes Hendra virus and Ebola, both of which are bat-borne viruses.

Interestingly, bats, a great contributor to our natural environment, do not get sick or show signs of disease from these otherwise highly pathogenic viruses. CSIRO researchers based at AAHL in Geelong, are working on a variety of high-consequence pathogens and are studying wildlife reservoirs such as bats. Understanding the mechanisms responsible for the control of pathogens in their natural hosts may provide a chance to design new treatments for human disease.

This work has led to the recent discovery that unlike other species, bats do not only release interferon in response to a pathogen, but seem able to survive with a constant level of interferon. This may help explain their immunity to viruses that prove fatal in other species and represents just one of many examples of how animals may help us understand and prevent human disease.

As a national facility, AAHL’s laboratories at Physical Containment level 3 & 4, including the capability offered by the PC3 & PC4 animal facilities (unique in Australia) are available to support the objectives of Australia’s university research community and biomedical industry. Examples of research performed at AAHL includes diagnostics development, the identification and characterisation of new and emerging viruses, comparative immunology, vector studies, preclinical studies of new vaccines and therapeutics, genome engineering for biosecurity purposes and pathogenesis studies.

You can see inside AAHL here. If you require access to high containment to further your research, please submit an access enquiry using this form.   

Image credit: CSIRO