Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

An International scientific project

concerning Arctic health

- Understanding zoonotic diseases!

ZORRO Project about pathogens in the arctic and zoonotic diseases
Zoonotic diseases in Artic
Photo by Christian Sonne

What is ZORRO?

ZORRO is a Nordic working group including researchers from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Faroe Island and Greenland. The main focus is Arctic zoonotic diseases and it is funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers.

ZORRO was established in 2014 and was spurred by a concern regarding the enormous lack of knowledge concerning Arctic zoonoses, in a region where many people still rely on wildlife as a significant part of their diet. As such, ZORRO works to unveil the risk for hunters and wildlife consumers of acquiring zoonotic diseases from their game, but also the risk of these zoonoses to be disseminated to the general public in the Arctic. ZORRO moreover investigates possible links between accumulation of environmental chemicals in wildlife and the burden of diseases, incl. zoonoses. In its’ work, ZORRO involves multiple interdisciplinary fields and firmly embraces the “OneHealth” concept and approach.



Definition: Zoonotic diseases are pathogens such as bacteria, virus, fungi and parasites, that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Zoonoses have long been known to occur in the Arctic, and the first people, the Inuit, were well aware of some of the health-risks involved in handling and consuming wildlife.

Today, the Arctic region is extremely vulnerable to the effects induced by contaminant, and the long marine food chain results in high human- and top predator exposures. In addition to this, plant-based foods are scarce due to relatively limited vegetational growth in the high north. Many of the pollutants in the Arctic cause harmful effects on humans and high trophic (“high in the food chain”) wildlife, but other anthropogenic stressors are adding further biological stress to Arctic ecosystems. Among other, climate change is spurring the occurrence of novel pathogens in the Arctic, as well as altered survival conditions for various indigenous pathogens. Global warming is furthermore thought to introduce invasive wildlife species, i.e. disease vectors of various kinds, and thereby new pathogens to the Arctic. Hence the health dynamics, disease characteristics, extent and morbidity of zoonoses may change in the future.

Because marine mammals are an important food source for northern indigenous people in particular, the presence, reservoir and extent of these zoonotic infectious pathogens present serious health issues. It is important to note, that traditional Arctic foods often are consumed raw, which increases the risk of zoonotic disease transfer significantly. Preservation processes like drying, smoking or fermenting foods are widely practiced, but often can prove insufficient to prevent human food-borne infections.

Research related to Arctic pollution has been conducted within the framework of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) over the last 25 years among the collective 8 Arctic nations of the World, and ZORRO builds on the network and experience of this research. The scientific competences within this field are therefore strong between the Nordic European countries.



News and publicatons

Prevalence of antibodies against Brucella spp. in West Greenland polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and East Greenland muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus)

Top of the food chain
"Top of the food chain" by Christian Sonne