Community health and human-animal contacts on the edges of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda

Posted on 24.11.2021 - 18:40

Cross-species transmission of pathogens is intimately linked to human and environmental health. With limited healthcare and challenging living conditions, people living in poverty may be particularly susceptible to endemic and emerging diseases. Similarly, wildlife is impacted by human influences, including pathogen sharing, especially for species in close contact with people and domesticated animals. Here we investigate human and animal contacts and human health in a community living around the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP), Uganda. We used contact and health survey data to identify opportunities for cross-species pathogen transmission, focusing mostly on people and the endangered mountain gorilla. We conducted a survey with background questions and self-reported diaries to investigate 100 participants’ health, such as symptoms and behaviours, and contact patterns, including direct contacts and sightings over a week. Contacts were revealed through networks, including humans, domestic, peri-domestic, and wild animal groups for 1) contacts seen in the week of background questionnaire completion, and 2) contacts seen during the diary week. Participants frequently felt unwell during the study, reporting from one to 10 disease symptoms at different intensity levels, with severe symptoms comprising 6.4% of the diary records and tiredness and headaches the most common symptoms. After human-human contacts, direct contact with livestock and peri-domestic animals were the most common. The contact networks were moderately connected and revealed a preference in contacts within the same taxon and within their taxa groups. Sightings of wildlife were much more common than touching. However, despite contact with wildlife being the rarest of all contact types, one direct contact with a gorilla with a timeline including concerning participant health symptoms was reported. When considering all interaction types, gorillas mostly exhibited intra-species contact, but were found to interact with five other species, including people and domestic animals. Our findings reveal a local human population with recurrent symptoms of illness in a location with intense exposure to factors that can increase pathogen transmission, such as direct contact with domestic and wild animals and proximity among animal species. Despite significant biases and study limitations, the information generated here can guide future studies, such as models for disease spread and One Health interventions.

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Muylaert, Renata L.; Davidson, Ben; Ngabirano, Alex; Kalema-Zikusoka, Gladys; MacGregor, Hayley; Lloyd-Smith, James O.; et al. (2021): Community health and human-animal contacts on the edges of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. PLOS ONE. Collection. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0254467
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