Using Human Disease Outbreaks as a Guide to Multilevel Ecosystem Interventions

Angus Cook, A. Jardine, Philip Weinstein

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Human health often depends on environmental variables and is generally subject to widespread and comprehensive surveillance. Compared with other available measures of ecosystem health, human disease incidence may be one of the most useful and practical bioindicators for the often elusive gauge of ecologic well-being. We argue that many subtle ecosystem disruptions are often identified only as a result of detailed epidemiologic investigations after an anomalous increase in human disease incidence detected by routine surveillance mechanisms. Incidence rates for vector-mediated diseases (e.g., arboviral illnesses) and direct zoonoses (e.g., hantaviruses) are particularly appropriate as bioindicators to identify underlying ecosystem disturbances. Outbreak data not only have the potential to act as a pivotal warning system for ecosystem disruption, but may also be used to identify interventions for the preservation of ecologic health. With this approach, appropriate ecologically based strategies for remediation can be introduced at an earlier stage than would be possible based solely on environmental monitoring, thereby reducing the level of "ecosystem distress" as well as resultant disease burden in humans. This concept is discussed using local, regional, and global examples, thereby introducing the concept of multilevel ecosystem interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1143-1146
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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