The origins of brucellosis in the Neolithic period and its progression as a zoonotic disease has been highlighted by new research from the RVC.

A team of academics from the RVC explored the potential role of early animal domestication in the origins of brucellosis as a zoonotic disease using archeological data to inform a disease transmission model.

The work was conducted in collaboration with The University of Edinburgh, City University of Hong Kong and University of Reading.

Reservoirs

goats
Late Neolithic wall on hill Minoa on Amorgos. This early Cycladic fortification now serves mainly goats. This and main photo by Zde(CC BY-SA 3.0).

Researchers found the circulation of the pathogen causing brucellosis, Brucella melitensis, could have been sustained within goat populations of Neolithic settlements.

This was not only due to the presence of high goat population densities, but also to major modifications of the demographic characteristics of these populations, according to the researchers.

From the early stages of the development of animal farming, conditions were created for goat populations to become reservoirs of Brucella melitensis, promoting the exposure of humans to a new pathogen.

Transition

The findings support the view that the transition from food collection to production during the Neolithic transition, while allowing for larger human population sizes, resulted in significant adverse effects on human health and well-being.

It also demonstrates the importance of recognising the complexity of eco-systems, where it is often very difficult to obtain a holistic impression of the different types of impacts that a particular change in the system has, they explained.

Further attention

RVC research fellow Guillaume Fournié said: “It is generally accepted that the creation of large and dense animal populations has facilitated the emergence of infectious diseases in humans.

“However, the impact of changes in the demographic profiles of livestock populations on disease epidemiology requires further attention, as it may be a key factor in promoting disease transmission.”

The study was published in the February issue of the Royal Society Open Science journal and was authored by Dr Guillaume Fournié, Professor Dirk Pfeiffer (RVC and City University of Hong Kong), and Dr Robin Bendrey (University of Reading).

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