Facing a Host of Pathogens

February 2013
Stephen Higgs on Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases
Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases cover

A recent analysis of data from Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge has determined that the journal Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases is a Rising Star in the field of Immunology. Its current record in this field includes 932 papers cited a total of 6,226 times between January 1, 2002 and October 31, 2012.

Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases is published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., New Rochelle, NY. The journal’s Editor-in-Chief is Stephen Higgs, who is Peine Professor of Biosecurity and Professor of Diagnostic Medicine & Pathobiology at Kansas State University, Manhattan.

Below, Higgs answers a few questions about Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases and its increasing visibility as tracked by citations.


SW: Did you expect Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases to become highly cited, or is this surprising to you?

It’s not really surprising but is obviously gratifying. To be honest, as an editor my goal is to publish the very best articles in the field. I’m not obsessed with the citation index and impact factors, and that is the feeling of several friends who editor other journals. These come as a reward for publishing good articles but are not the driving force for selection. However, the scientific publishing industry uses this as a measure of success, and of course authors (including myself) are very aware of these factors and want to have their papers in journals with the highest impact. Being highly cited now means that more than ever, VBZ is attractive as a venue for high-quality manuscripts.

SW: How would you account for the journal’s growing citation rate?

It’s really all down to the authors and the quality of their work and the reviewers’ knowledge and attention to detail. I also have an excellent editorial board. As an author myself, I look at every manuscript and appreciate that it represents someone’s passion and that they have put their heart and soul into the work. With this in mind, I used to send almost all manuscripts out for review so that the author received expert feedback. Unfortunately perhaps, because of the journal’s success, we get so many more submissions now and I simply cannot send them all out for review. The explosion of new online journals with supposed fast turnaround of papers has exacerbated the situation because of increasing demand on busy scientists to review manuscripts. I know that this is voluntary work because I still review manuscripts for other journals on a regular basis, but in the last few years requests have increased from one or two a month to one or two a week. I used to say yes to most of them, but now I decline half or more. A result of this trend is that we now have to be very selective on which submissions we send out for review, and as a consequence quality has increased. Turning manuscripts down, especially without review, is still the hardest part of the job for me as an editor.

SW: Would you give us a brief history of the journal?

The journal was started by my friend Durland Fish in 2001 and is published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.. Due to my long-standing interest in mosquito-borne zoonotic pathogens, I immediately took out a subscription. I was therefore very familiar with the journal when Durland called me in 2003 to ask if I would be interested in taking over as editor. A meeting with him, Mary Ann Liebert, and Vicki Cohn, the Executive Vice President and Managing Editor, confirmed to me that this really was an opportunity that was too good to miss! At that time it was a quarterly publication, but it soon became apparent that VBZ was fulfilling a unique and growing need in the scientific publishing arena. In 2008 we published five issues, in 2009 six issues, in 2010 ten, and since 2011 we have been a monthly journal. During this time, journal publishing has been going through major changes. Our publisher has responded by creating a more dynamic online journal, publishing articles rapidly on Fast Track, offering open-access options, and providing strong marketing efforts to ensure that our authors’ work is highly visible around the globe.

SW: What historical factors have contributed to the journal’s success?

We cover vector-borne and zoonotic diseases in a timely manner and with a big-picture approach. The scope of the journal is very broad, covering many aspects of multiple pathogens, ranging from case reports to the epidemiology of outbreaks.

SW: Have there been specific developments in the fields served by the journal that may have contributed?

We simply do not know which known pathogen will re-emerge or which new one will emerge.

Unfortunately from the perspective of animal and human hosts, pathogens keep evolving and spreading, so the field continues to grow in importance. In the U.S., the introduction and establishment of West Nile virus was a major driver of research funding that temporarily increased the number of scientists working on mosquito-borne diseases. The emergence of chikungunya virus transmitted by the Asian tiger mosquito and its occurrence in Europe had a similar effect. The widespread availability of molecular techniques to detect and identify pathogens also has had a significant effect, although in my opinion there are some problems with this. I share the view of several editors that detection of pathogen sequence is no substitute for actual isolation of the infectious agent. I am more often declining manuscripts that only use molecular detection.

SW: What, in your view, is this journal’s main significance or contribution in the field of Immunology and beyond?

Immunology is just one of many topics included in the journal’s scope. A strength of the journal is that we publish papers that put immunological research in the context of laboratory diagnosis, animal models, and epidemiology. We also have companion journals with Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. that complement VBZ, for example: Viral Immunolgy; Foodborne Pathogens and Disease; Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonology; Population Health Management; and Biosecurity and Bioterrorism.

SW: How do you see your field evolving in the next few years?

It’s almost impossible to predict, but that’s what keeps the field dynamic and important. We simply do not know which known pathogen will re-emerge or which new one will emerge. One thing for sure is that problems associated with zoonotic and vector-borne diseases, and the numbers of cases, will not decline. There may be new control measures and vaccines, but there will still be millions of human cases every year. According to a 2009 publication by the Institute of Medicine, National Research Council of the National Academies, since 1980 over 80 new human pathogens have been discovered and approximately 80 percent of these are associated with nonhuman reservoirs—i.e., they are zoonotic. The term “global health” is frequently used these days, but for me the increasing awareness that human health is inextricably linked with multiple factors and other species—the concept of ONE Health—is far more relevant, and that’s what our journal really addresses better than any other.

SW: What role do you see for your journal?

VBZ will continue to increase knowledge and understanding of multiple diseases by publishing topical reviews and the latest research data produced by experts from around the world. We will respond and report on new developments as they occur, to ensure that information is disseminated in a comprehensible fashion to researchers and the general public. For me, that’s part of the journal’s overall strength, in that our articles are selected and thoroughly reviewed by scientific experts, and then prepared by the publisher’s expert staff to ensure that they have broad relevance and appeal.


Stephen Higgs, Ph.D., F.R.E.S.
Kansas State University
Manhattan, Kansas

The data and citation records included in this report are from Thomson Reuters Web of ScienceTM. Web of ScienceTM is a registered trademark of Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.