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Project March 9, 2017

Outbreak: How Humans Are Driving the Rise of Diseases

Authors:
Mahal, an orangutan who was rejected by his mother at a Colorado zoo, at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Image by Mark Hoffman for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. United States, 2017.
Mahal, an orangutan who was rejected by his mother at a Colorado zoo, at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Image by Mark Hoffman for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. United States, 2017.

Humans have a complex relationship with animals. We keep them for pets. We tame them. We eat them. We fear them and love them. We share the planet with them, and increasingly our decisions bring us into closer and closer contact with them. The closer the contact the greater the risk humans and animals will pass devastating diseases to each other.

Of the 400 or so emerging infectious diseases identified since 1940, more than 60 percent have been zoonotic, meaning they have passed from animals to humans. Think diseases such as Zika, Ebola, SARS and rabies. Each year, zoonotic diseases account for 2.5 billion cases of human illness and about 2.7 million deaths. The direct costs from these diseases are estimated at more than $20 billion over the last decade.

In this project, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel staffers Mark Johnson and Mark Hoffman examine the rise of such diseases, and what can be done to better anticipate—and prevent—the next pandemic.

The series begins with a look at the mysterious death of an orangutan at the Milwaukee County Zoo from a never-before-seen tapeworm it picked up years earlier and hundreds of miles away. It will follow these disease hunters to Africa, Brazil and cities in the United States—in the field, in the lab and, ultimately, inside the algorithms that provide hope for solutions.

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