Viruses: An eye on the big picture

 

Dr. Julie Brassard has a passion for viruses. Viruses are tiny organisms that can make you sick in a matter of hours. She is part of a team of researchers that helps us better understand viruses. "Our immune systems are very complex, yet some viruses can effectively bypass them and make us sick so quickly", says Dr. Brassard, a food and environmental virologist based at Agriculture and Agri Food Canada’s Saint Hyacinthe Research and Development Centre. "The more I learn about them, the more fascinating I find them."

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Dr. Brassard and her team use a "one health" approach that looks at the big picture of diseases and how viruses travel between humans, animals and the environment. That is because many viruses naturally circulate among animals, humans and the environment, including water. For example, hepatitis E virus (HEV) is found in pigs worldwide. The pigs are not affected by the virus, but act as a host. The virus can be transmitted to humans who eat contaminated under-cooked meat. While the risk of contracting the disease is low in Canada, its potential for harm means that finding the best measures to reduce the spread of the virus continues to be important.

 

Dr. Brassard’s team is working hard to discover the sources of HEV, how it spreads, and how it survives. Their research will help teach people how to control HEV — in barns, abattoirs or barbecues.

 

"Farmers and others in the agri food industry face many challenges as they work hard to keep our food safe", says Dr. Brassard. "I feel privileged to be able to support them by providing new knowledge, scientific advances and innovations to protect people, animals, our food industry and our economy."

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