Avian influenza, coronavirus (Sars-CoV-2) or West Nile virus - alongside climate change and antibiotic-resistant germs, zoonotic infectious diseases are among the greatest health challenges of the 21st century. To meet these challenges scientifically, a new, state-of-the-art zoonoses laboratory is being built at the AGES site in Mödling. "Zoonoses are a growing problem for public health, food safety and animal health. The new zoonoses laboratory will create the conditions to further strengthen AGES' expertise in monitoring and research," said AGES CEOs Thomas Kickinger and Anton Reinl at the groundbreaking ceremony with representatives of the Ministry of Health and Mödling Mayor Hans Stefan Hintner.
When animals make people sick - danger from zoonotic pathogens increases
"The next pandemic will come, we just don't know when and by which pathogen, but we can be better prepared", Friedrich Schmoll, Business Unit Manager of AGES Animal Health emphasized the benefits of the new zoonosis laboratory. Sixty percent of all human pathogens are zoonoses, i.e. transmissible from animals to humans. "It is crucial for veterinary and public health authorities to have test results available quickly in order to initiate appropriate measures for prevention or control." Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases caused by bacteria, parasites, fungi, prions or viruses that are transmitted reciprocally between animals and humans - by direct contact, through food or by vectors. A vector is an organism, for example a tick or mosquito, that transports a pathogen from one host organism to another. Vector-borne diseases account for more than 17 percent of all infectious diseases worldwide.
Climate change affecting zoonotic diseases and vectors such as gnats and ticks
Climate change is also affecting these pathogens: Disease vectors can spread to new areas as favorable conditions for their vectors occur here. When temperatures rise in Austria, pathogens from warmer areas can also settle here more easily. A current example is the West Nile fever virus. The European Food Safety Authority EFSA has named ten priority infectious diseases in 2023 that will also be of importance in this country in the near future. These include diseases such as Rift Valley fever, a viral disease of livestock such as sheep, cows and goats, which can also be transmitted to humans via mosquitoes. Currently, Rift Valley fever is not yet present in Europe; however, as bluetongue or the Schmallenberg virus showed a few years ago, outbreaks of a "new" pathogen can spread very quickly throughout Europe.
"Climate change in particular could increase tick- or gnat-borne diseases such as West Nile or dengue fever, and they can be studied more intensively in the new zoonoses laboratory," says Sigrid Kiermayr, department head for communicable diseases and disease control at the Ministry of Health. To contain disease outbreaks, scientists are now pursuing a holistic approach called "One Health." The health of humans is closely linked to that of animals, and the environment in turn affects wildlife. "The key in combating zoonotic diseases lies in this 'One Health' approach: keeping animals healthy also benefits humans. A successful example of how a holistic approach can achieve good results for animals and people is the de facto eradication of rabies in Austria," said Florian Fellinger, group leader of consumer health and veterinary affairs at the Ministry of Health.
High-tech for all animal health and disease control issues
At AGES, infectious animal diseases, zoonoses and emerging animal diseases in Austria are detected and monitored at an early stage. "In this way, we help to protect the domestic population from infectious diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans and thereby also make an important contribution to the health of humans, animals and food," the AGES directors emphasize the need to be able to monitor infection chains from feed and animal health to food and human health: "State-of-the-art analytics are important for this." The AGES Institute for Veterinary Investigations in Mödling is one of the most modern facilities for maintaining animal health in Austria, with laboratory capacity and the veterinary expertise to monitor more than 30 notifiable animal diseases and other reference activities for infectious diseases. "We are very proud of AGES' state-of-the-art site in Mödling and are pleased that further investments are being made here. Health is our most valuable asset. Therefore, it is even more important that we develop even further in this field and are prepared for emergencies," said National Council Member and Mayor of Mödling Hans Stefan Hintner.
Austrian Real Estate (ARE) is once again building highly technical laboratory space of safety level L3 for AGES in Mödling, following the Center for Biological Safety (high-security laboratory of level L3+). On approximately 2,200 square meters, the special building services with air filtration systems take up a large part of the space to operate five flexible laboratory rooms, each with its own airlocks, and four multifunctional rooms according to the latest standards. "The new research building is of high importance for human and animal health and we are pleased to implement such a project," said ARE Managing Director Wolfgang Gleissner. The zoonoses laboratory will be powered primarily by district heating. A photovoltaic system on the roof will generate some of the required electricity itself. Completion of the zoonoses laboratory is planned by the end of 2024.