A mixed methods approach to understand zoonotic disease transmission in an Indigenous reserve in Guyana, South America

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A mixed methods approach to understand zoonotic disease transmission in an Indigenous reserve in Guyana, South America

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While the hunting of wildlife is a key component of the traditional subsistence strategies of millions of people throughout the tropical world, it is also a potential source of zoonotic disease. Numerous studies have documented the emergence of zoonoses from hunting in Africa and Asia, yet relatively little research has focused on infectious diseases from wild meat within the neotropics. Additionally, few researchers have used mixed methodologies to understand the influence of sociocultural factors on human-animal pathogen exchange. Given this gap in knowledge, the overarching objective of this dissertation is to integrate quantitative diagnostics and ethnography to characterize the potential risk of pathogen spillover from wildlife to Indigenous Waiwai through the consumption of wild meat, in the Konashen Community Owned Conservation Area, Guyana, South America. In Chapter 1, I employ ethnographic methods to identify potential pathways of zoonotic disease transmission from the hunting and consumption of wild meat among Indigenous Waiwai. I found that although the Waiwai engage in several behaviors that mitigate the potential for zoonotic disease transmission from interactions with wildlife, two activities may facilitate the risk of disease transmission in the village a) the hunting, butchery and consumption of free-ranging primates and b) the consumption of wildlife entrails by village dogs and the subsequent close associations between dogs and the Waiwai. Therefore, in Chapter 2, I characterize free-ranging primate host health using histopathology and assess the presence of zoonotic pathogens through de novo molecular methods. In Chapter 3, I explore the role of dogs as bridge hosts for disease transmission between wildlife and humans. I perform physical examinations, collect biological samples for traditional veterinary diagnostic screening and use RNA-based molecular diagnostics to characterize dog host health and assess the presence of zoonotic pathogens. I also integrate questionnaires to better understand dog health, behavior and Waiwai husbandry practices. Given the global threat of emerging infectious diseases, particularly in hotspots like Amazonia with large areas of Indigenous reserves, it is imperative that scientists work collaboratively with Indigenous and local populations to understand zoonotic disease emergence. By combining ethnography, traditional diagnostics and advanced molecular methods, this research reveals new insights into the factors driving zoonotic emergence in ways that will help mitigate the potential for future spillover events.



University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2022. Major: Veterinary Medicine. Advisors: Tiffany Wolf, Peter Larsen. 1 computer file (PDF); 237 pages.

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Milstein, Marissa. (2022). A mixed methods approach to understand zoonotic disease transmission in an Indigenous reserve in Guyana, South America. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/241440.

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