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Diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people, known as zoonoses, are responsible for some of our most serious public health problems. Many are food-borne, such as salmonella, and carried by domestic livestock. Outbreaks can have a rapid and very serious impact. Control of these diseases is being hampered by 'divisions' between the medical and veterinary sciences. Scientists monitoring outbreaks in humans appear to be out of touch with those who monitor the diseases on farms. Tracing sources and predicting outbreaks is difficult under such circumstances. For the first time, under the Sixth Framework Programme, a Network of Excellence is connecting medical and veterinary expertise on all zoonoses, a move that will significantly improve our ability to understand and control these diseases.


Nearly two-thirds of known human pathogens are zoonotic - they can be caught from animals. The EC Directive on zoonoses lists 23 zoonotic agents that are public health threats and should be monitored. Some are carried by livestock, while others, such as rabies and trichinella, have a major reservoir in wildlife. Changes in human society, particularly globalisation, may increase the threat from zoonoses, and previously unknown diseases, such as the SARS virus, can emerge from animals quite suddenly.

MED-VET-NET, the Network for Prevention and Control of Zoonoses, is being funded for five years to establish a virtual European institute studying zoonotic disease throughout the food chain. The network comprises eight veterinary and seven public health institutes from ten European countries. In addition, an SME partner is included to disseminate knowledge. The network involves 150 key scientists of international renown and will forge links with other organisations involved in zoonosis research.

The main elements of the network are strong communication, shared resources, and joint research. The network will have a Governing Board, with director-level representation for each partner, and a coordinating forum to plan and implement integrated scientific research. It will establish an interactive project website ( and an electronic journal so that staff from different institutes can communicate and share their findings more easily. It will also train scientists to communicate beter with the general public.


Fragmentation of resources and expertise is a major problem in the study of zoonoses. Tens of thousands of samples are collected from farms and hospitals annually by different institutes, but they are seldom ever compared. The field is split, not just into medical and veterinary studies, but also into branches of science representing different organism types - virology, bacteriology, and parasitology. Yet there are common themes in the dynamics of the diseases and common techniques for studying them. Some, like DNA sequencing, involve expensive equipment and generate huge amounts of data. MED-VET-NET will make better use of resources by sharing facilities internationally. It plans to centralise archives of reference material and standardise procedures to enable information to be pooled.

The network will initiate joint research work packages where international collaboration could be valuable - using Geographical Information Systems to study outbreak distributions across Europe, for example. Such work packages, supported by technology transfer and training, will mean that all MED-VET-NET partners will have access to the best knowledge and facilities concerning all zoonoses. The team hopes the network will result in the establishment of a permanent virtual international institute and harmonised and standardised surveillance systems.

List of Partners

  • French Food Safety Agency (France)
  • Central Institute for Animal Disease Control (The Netherlands)
  • Instituut voor Dierhouderij en Diergezondheid, IDLelystad (The Netherlands)
  • National Centre of Microbiology, Carlos III Institute of Health (Spain)
  • National Veterinary Institute (Sweden)
  • Statens Serum Institute (Denmark)
  • Veterinary Laboratories Agency (UK)
  • National Institute for Public Health and the Environment RIVM (The Netherlands)
  • Society for Applied Microbiology (UK)
  • Danish Institute of Food and Veterinary Research, (Denmark)
  • Italian National Institute of Health (Italy)
  • Veterinary Medical Research Institute, (Hungary)
  • Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (Germany)
  • National Institute of Hygiene (Poland)
  • Health Protection Agency (UK)
  • Complutense University Madrid, (Spain)
Full title:
Network of prevention and control of zoonoses
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
André Jestin, French Food Safety Agency,
EC Scientific Officer:
Jean-Charles Cavitte,
EU contribution:
€ 14.4M
Network of Excellence

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top