One Health

Even though it is a major initiative well past first blush of implementation, I would be willing to bet that almost none of you have heard of  One Health.  The idea – establishing close links between human and veterinary medicine make absolute sense. People affect the environment (wildlife as well as climate in their roles as anything from pet owners to farmers, developers, explorers and tourists) while animal health is key to both the food supply as well as infectious disease.

I have borrowed the following map to give you an idea of some of the newly emerging problems. Some diseases are shared between animals and peoples with one or the other serving as host. Others are a simple, inadvertent spill over into the other population.


It is a concept whose time is probably long over due. Established in ~ 2007-2008 it has spread well beyond the founding at University of Iowa (yes Virginia, there is actually life and good works in the middle of the corn belt) and has seen buy in at governmental, NGO, grass roots and private foundations.  The CDC has jumped on the band wagon, using the concept to further progress in Med-Vet interface as well as flu surveillance while the EU has to a large extent gone in the direction of biosecurity.

In any case, the idea is that professionals from a wide spectrum of backgrounds work together on common interests and grounds with the idea that the interface should provide some synergy and accelerate progress on some of the more complicated challenges.

If the whole thing leaves you thinking “blinding flash of the obvious” please remember that we make progress to a large extent through research. Academicians make their name by becoming expert in a very specialized field. That tend toward highly specialized interest starts before graduate school, is further guided through PhD research and encouraged by the whole publication process. Multi-disciplinary is not a familiar concept to most.

In practical application it means that slaughtering off large numbers of poultry infected with H5N1 (HPAI) is not really done for the benefit of the farmer (who loses the flock prior to being able to slaughter and sell the birds) but it prevents spread to others and  humans. At the same time, the impact of the loss of protein to the population will have implications for human health well beyond the small risk of infection spread.

It means that surveillance of West Nile Virus needs to include entomology (the mosquitos), local bird flocks (wild life management), horses (vet services) and human case reporting (encephalitis). Any single one of these will neither give the whole picture nor the extent of the disease impact from either infectious load or economic cost.

See! I do listen as well as knit….

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3 Responses to One Health

  1. Rebecca says:

    I didn’t actually read the article (much to my mother’s unending dismay), but she pointed out a bit in the New York Times about mice and infection.

    It seems the rodents don’t fight off diseases the same way people do. So would this also affect the way mice (or other rodents) transmit disease? If we can contract the same diseases, but fight them off in different ways, would the mice be more (or less) potent vectors of human infections?

  2. Holly says:

    well, think of it this way … not all diseases are a direct transmission. In many cases an animal species serves as intermediate host for a viral, baterial or rickettsial infection. The insect vector then feeds on the animal followed by snacking on a person (think flea, tick, mosquito) for plague, lyme disease and West Nile as examples…

    so an increase in Norwegian Rats caused by the increase in trade in the middle ages from ship board traffic lead to the rapid importation of the Black Death (& Bubonic Plague)

    today we worry about direct spread (rabies from bites, Hanta from aerosolized rodent urine…

    it is not always that one specifies fights off a disease better than another. In some cases, because of the mechanism of infection, the causative agent just can’t get started. All gets technical and often requires a whole lot more comparative physiology, biochemistry or molecular physics that you really wanted to learn (grin)

  3. Allison says:

    That is interesting!
    It is a blinding flash of obvious 🙂
    Infectious diseases, yes and long term health impacts of future generations.

    …remember the disappearing bees (a serious issue to human farming and the food supply)

    The research today being conducted on dogs for the benefit of both canines and humans is essential. We do share so many diseases (cancer, thyroid issues etc).

    I became more aware of wildlife management 10 years ago when I started hunting with my dog. I learned to hunt mainly to preserve the breed I love. All bird hunters contribute financially and otherwise to maintaining wildlife management areas and to increase the dwindling healthy bird populations. Quail have become a rarity compared to years gone by – due to the environment and loss of habitat. The toxins found in water fowl – scary.

    Interesting to note that the smallest portion of autism research 2%, goes to environmental causes. I assume big business ensures it stays that way.

    Maybe one day organic will be normal and not exceptional?

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