Soil Borne Human Diseases

Simon Jeffery, Wim H. Van der Putten

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Soils are home to a remarkable array of biodiversity with some estimates stating that 25% of the
Earth’s species find their home in the soil. Of these organisms, the vast majority are not of any threat
to human health, but rather function to provide numerous ecosystem services which emerge through
the multitude of complex interactions between organisms within the soil and the soil itself. These
ecosystem services range from those which are vital for maintaining life on Earth, such as the
formation of soil, the cycling of nutrients with the result of maintaining soil fertility, and the filtering
of water, as well as provision of useful compounds such as antibiotics, the majority of which have
been isolated from soil organisms.
However, soils also contain microorganisms which are capable of causing diseases in humans. They
act either as opportunistic pathogens which take advantage of susceptible individuals, such as those
who are immuno-compromised; or as obligate pathogens which must infect humans in order to
complete their life-cycles. These organisms may be capable of surviving within the soil for extended
periods of time before infecting humans who come into contact with contaminated soil.
This report provides an overview of the various soil borne diseases which can affect humans, including
a discussion of the literature where available for each disease, and an analysis of the evidence for why
each disease may be considered to be soil borne. Information from the World Health Organisation
(WHO) and the European Centre for disease prevention and control (ECDC) on infection and mortality
rates within the EU27 is also presented. However, limitations with the data sets prevent accurate
qualitative analysis such as which diseases have the highest recovery rates in which member state,
numbers of non-lethal disease cases, etc. A discussion of the factors which may affect the incidence of
such diseases; including land management practices or land use change, climate change, and the use of
antibiotics in livestock, is presented. Finally, areas of future research which are needed are highlighted
to aid further investigation of this important and yet understudied area.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherPublications Office of the European Union
Commissioning bodyEuropean Commission
Number of pages56
ISBN (Print) 978-92-79-20797-6
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Publication series

NameJCRScientific and Technical Reports


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