Disease Surveillance in Zoos: Findings of the West Nile Virus Surveillance Program
In June 2001 Lincoln Park Zoo in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hosted a meeting that brought together experts from USDA, United States Geological Survey (USGS), state and local public health, Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and American Association of Zoo Veterinarians to discuss surveillance for West Nile virus in zoological institutions. CDC recognized the potential role of zoos as public health sentinels but until then lacked the ability to collect such data in a manner that ensured confidentiality for the zoological community. With funding from the CDC, the West Nile Virus Surveillance System for Zoological Institutions was created. Under this pilot 22,272 diagnostic samples were analyzed from 183 different institutions over six years. Surveillance coverage included 47 states and one U.S. territory. The system identified 3,737 samples positive for West Nile virus.
Along with the valuable diagnostic information gained during the surveillance effort, other benefits of this system were realized. First, zoos can play an important role in surveillance for public health issues. This builds partnerships between animal health and public health at the local level. Second, zoos can organize around an issue that affects not only their collections, but wildlife and the public as well. Third, valuable lessons were learned that should be considered with any future expansion of surveillance in zoos. Issues with taxonomic classification, case definition, animal identification, and database design will be illustrated.