Taylor Weary, a DVM/PhD dual degree student at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, is the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Gregory D. Bossart Memorial One Health Scholarship.
The $5,000 scholarship, administered by the One Health Commission and funded by the Georgia Aquarium, aims to support research exploring the intersections between human, animal and environmental health, known as the One Health framework.
Weary is a member of the lab of Tony Goldberg, professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine Department of Pathobiological Sciences and director of the Kibale EcoHealth Project. This long-term research project studies health and ecology in and around Kibale National Park in Uganda.
Weary studies the movement of respiratory diseases from human children to chimpanzees in Kibale National Park. This type of transmission, called reverse zoonosis, is known to cause deadly disease outbreaks in wild chimpanzee populations. However, little is known about how human disease infiltrates chimpanzee populations.
“It is now clear that common human respiratory pathogens can infect and kill wild chimpanzees, but we do not understand how these pathogens enter chimpanzee populations,” Weary explains.
Past investigations in Kibale and elsewhere have shown that chimpanzees are being infected by pathogens that cause the “common cold” in children.
“It is now clear that common human respiratory pathogens can infect and kill wild chimpanzees, but we do not understand how these pathogens enter chimpanzee populations.”
The lab hypothesizes that these pathogens, most of which are viruses, are transmitted by adults who enter the forest without having symptoms. If this is the case, current regulations for entering forests with wild apes may need to be modified.
Weary’s research aims to determine which respiratory pathogens infect adults and children living near Kibale National Park and the seasonal patterns of those pathogens. Combined with data from other studies, these data will show how such pathogens move from humans to chimpanzees.
“We expect to identify human respiratory pathogens that pose a risk for chimpanzees and identify when, where and how transmission is most likely to occur,” Weary says.
Because of the timing of the study – researchers began sampling human and chimpanzee subjects prior to the COVID-19 pandemic – the project can provide critical insights into how “common cold” pathogens behaved during pandemic-related school closures and subsequent reopenings.
“We can determine which pathogens reemerge first, whom these pathogens infect and where and when they re-establish,” Weary explains.
Using results from Weary’s research, the newly established Healthy Children, Healthy Chimps (HCHC) program hopes to reduce human to ape disease transmission through local policy change in areas surrounding Kibale National Park.
This project is a collaboration between the Kibale EcoHealth Project and the Kasiisi Project, an education nonprofit serving children near Kibale National Park.
“HCHC is a platform for translating our results into action using the One Health ideal, showing that the health of local children is inextricably linked to the health of chimpanzees,” Weary explains.
The Kasiisi Project has laid a groundwork for enacting meaningful change in Ugandan education, conservation and human health. With their partnership, Weary hopes her research can help guide policy focused on reducing pathogen transmission to chimpanzees.
“Healthy Children, Healthy Chimps is a platform for translating our results into action using the One Health ideal, showing that the health of local children is inextricably linked to the health of chimpanzees.”
“We envision strategies such as on-site testing of forest workers during peak transmission seasons, decontamination protocols that are custom-tailored for high-risk agents, monitoring of school children to track transmission and improve child health, and biosecurity protocols that focus on the biological and epidemiological attributes of the most problematic pathogens,” Weary writes in her scholarship application.
This set of research and educational projects intends to help improve the health of children and apes near Kibale National Park and throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.