Infectious disease

Infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, parasites or fungi and are contagious. As both the prevention and control of infectious diseases are vitally important, we fund research in the field of infectious diseases aimed at detection, diagnostics, transmission and preventative measures.

Infectious disease control

Infectious diseases can be transmitted, for example, via the air, eating infected food, infected surfaces (such as via hands) bite wounds, animals and vectors (especially infected ticks and mosquitoes) and unprotected sex. To achieve health for everybody, we fund various health studies, encourage the use of the knowledge developed and promote collaboration between the different professionals from human and veterinary medicine. A nice example of this is the ZonMw project HANDSOME (only available in Dutch) from which emerged tools for better hand hygiene, for example in nursing homes. Thanks to proper hand hygiene (only available in Dutch), the spread of bacteria and viral particles is prevented. Also, a lot of research is being done into vaccines that can prevent infectious diseases.

Zoonoses and vector-borne infectious diseases

The complex interactions between people and animals not only provide relaxation, food and fertile land, but also result in diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people, the so-called zoonoses. We devote considerable attention to non-alimentary zoonoses transmitted from animals and vectors to people, beyond the food chain. Several examples of this are Lyme disease, Q fever (only available in Dutch), malaria (only available in Dutch) and rabies.

Sexual health

Infectious diseases also include diseases that belong to the category sexually transmitted disease (STDs such as HIV and chlamydia). STDs are also a focus area for public health, especially among high-risk groups. Thanks to the medical studies, interventions and educational efforts funded by us, it has become possible to prevent these diseases. One example is the research into expanding and improving existing education programmes and/or medication, such as for HIV prevention with the PrEP pill (only available in Dutch).

Collaboration in infectious diseases control

People and animals in the Netherlands live close together, which means the probability of a zoonosis outbreak is relatively high. Therefore, collaboration between the relevant parties is important to minimise the chance of such an outbreak. ZonMw is affiliated with the knowledge platform animal husbandry and human health, together with the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Wageningen University & Research, Utrecht University, Association of Regional Public Health Services and the Dutch Environment Agency (Omgevingsdienst NL). Our goal is to collate, explain and disclose current knowledge about animal husbandry and the health of people and animals.

We are also part of international collaborations such as GloPID-R. This is a worldwide collaboration between researchers and research funding bodies with a focus on preparedness for outbreaks of infectious diseases. Together with other countries, we aim to increase preparedness and to accelerate appropriate responses to outbreaks with a pandemic potential.

One Health approach infectious diseases control

Infectious diseases continuously pose new threats and are not confined by national boundaries. Together with other countries, we want to deploy the One Health approach (only available in Dutch) to safeguard the health of people, animals and plants at local, regional, national and international levels by finding concrete solutions for zoonotic outbreaks and antimicrobial resistance, for instance. We are currently working on research into the prevention of infectious diseases and managing the costs for prevention and treatment.

The coronavirus

The coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is an infectious disease that has held the world in its grip for many years. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we have funded many studies into, for example, vaccines, care, prevention and the societal consequences of the coronavirus in our COVID-19 programme.

Healthy living environment

People come into contact with microorganisms via water, air and soil, in other words, via the environment in which they reside, work and live. As a result of climate change, infectious diseases can survive better in the Netherlands and the transmission of infectious diseases is becoming easier. See the current and past projects (only available in Dutch) that researched this.

Pandemic preparedness

Climate change and antimicrobial resistance pose a threat to infectious diseases control in people and animals. Due to climate change, the habitat of various types of plants and animals can shift, as a result of which there is a greater chance of contracting infectious diseases, especially non-alimentary zoonoses. Due to antimicrobial resistance, which arises due to excessive and incorrect use of antibiotics, our body no longer responds to antibiotics, and it consequently becomes increasingly difficult to treat infections. At the request of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (only available in Dutch), we are developing the Pandemic Preparedness knowledge programme (only available in Dutch) ‘Preventing, controlling and managing pandemics caused by microorganisms’ to prepare for a possible pandemic and its effective control.

Data are crucial for an effective approach to infectious diseases

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed how important it is to quickly gain access to sufficient data for, amongst other things, vaccine development, insights into the spread of the virus and to discover which measures are needed to counteract that. For other infections too, proper data are crucial for an effective approach. Read why ZonMw’s increasing focus on FAIR data, especially in the field of infectious diseases, is certainly not a coincidence.


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