As fish farms proliferate, diseases do too

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Aquaculture has become a booming industry in Chile, with salmon and other fish farmed in floating enclosures along the South Pacific coast. But as farmers densely pack these pens to meet demand, diseases can easily pass between fish — for example, an outbreak of infectious salmon anemia that emerged in 2007 caused the deaths of more than a million fish and threatened to cripple the industry. And unsustainable aquaculture methods can have a wider impact, spreading disease to the world’s already vulnerable ocean fisheries and contaminating the environment.

Earlier this year, Tamara Awerbuch Friedlander, an instructor in the Department of Global Health and Population at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), traveled to Chile to work with faculty members at the University of Antofagastato develop research and an academic curriculum focused on preventing the spread of diseases and parasites among farmed fish, and from aquacultures to the wild fish population, without the use of potentially harmful chemicals.

Awerbuch Friedlander uses mathematical modeling to study the complex social and biological systems behind the spread of diseases, and has previously focused on AIDS and Lyme disease, among others.

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