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Animals warn of human health hazards in new 'Canary Database'

New Haven, Conn. -- Yale School of Medicine has launched a state-of-the-art database funded in part by the National Library of Medicine, called the Canary Database, containing scientific evidence about how animal disease events can be an early warning system for emerging human diseases.

There have long been reports of animals succumbing to environmental hazards before humans show signs of illness, according to the project's leader, Peter Rabinowitz, M.D., associate professor of medicine in The Yale Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program at Yale University School of Medicine.

"This concept of a 'canary in a coal mine' suggests that animals may be useful sentinels for human environmental health hazards," said Rabinowitz. He points to the practice in the United States and Britain where coal miners would bring canaries into coal mines as an early warning signal for carbon monoxide and other poisonous gases. The birds, being more sensitive, would become sick before the miners, who would then have a chance to escape or put on protective respirators.

Rabinowitz said several episodes of illness in animals have been clearly linked to human health threats, including cats and mercury poisoning, and more recently wild bird mortality and West Nile Virus infection.

Rabinowitz said non-human animals could be more sensitive to many of the agents that are potential biological or chemical weapons and could therefore serve as "sentinels" for a terrorist attack. At the same time, the public health system has been slow to use animal sentinel data to detect and reduce human environmental health hazards. Rabinowitz said there is a lack of ongoing scientific communication between animal health and human health professionals about emerging disease threats. This has made it difficult to assemble the evidence about linkages between animal diseases and human health.

To address this need, Rabinowitz and his team developed The Canary Database of Animals as Senti
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Contact: Karen N. Peart
karen.peart@yale.edu
203-432-1326
Yale University
15-Aug-2005


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