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Study: Government needs to do more to examine risks of animal to human disease outbreaks

WASHINGTON — Wild animals can pose risks to human health, and the government needs to do more to examine and assess the threats, according to a new national study.

The Government Accountability Office is one federal watchdog that studies issues like zoonotic disease outbreaks.

“These are diseases that can spread from animals to humans,” GAO Director Steve Morris, explained.

His latest report has real world impacts for our communities.

“It’s caused millions of deaths and it’s really cost governments and economies billions of dollars,” Morris said.

He gave examples including an Ebola outbreak caused by rodents from Africa, Avian Influenza, which impacted thousands of people, and recent Coronaviruses, which claimed millions of lives.

“We’ve identified a little over about 200 of these diseases, but there’s potentially thousands out there that we really don’t know about,” Morris said.

The GAO looked at how these diseases spread and what the government is doing to identify and detect them, both domestically and possibly coming in from other countries.

There is some good news – the report said the government has taken a number of steps to try to find out more information about these types of diseases.

But watchdogs believe there’s more work to be done, including improving coordination when creating a national surveillance effort.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevent does work to prevent diseased animals from coming to the U.S. It can restrict certain species from places where there are already outbreaks. The GAO also thinks those officials can be too reactive.

“We think there’s opportunities here for CDC to be a little more proactive to identify the risks of various types or categories of wildlife and take any appropriate action before the outbreak occurs,” Morris added.

Investigators included different agencies that have a role in this process in their study. Officials from several of the departments said they are working to collaborate. Read the agency responses here.

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