One Health: New term, Ancient Concept

SEPTEMBER 07, 2016
Laura H. Kahn, MD, MPH, MPP
But the pieces weren’t adding up. Dr. Tracey McNamara, chief of veterinary pathology at the Bronx Zoo, played a key role in identifying the causative agent. She knew something wasn’t right because the European and African birds that should have been getting sick from SLE were healthy while the birds native to North America were dying.  She and her staff performed necropsies (the animal version of autopsies) in a number of zoo birds and found massive cardiac necrosis, horrific meningoencephalitis, and liver coagulative necrosis.

She knew the causative agent wasn’t SLE, but the public health community wasn’t interested in her findings because they were in animals. They didn’t listen to her because she was a veterinarian. In the end though, she was right. West Nile virus had appeared for the first time in North America.
I discovered in my research that the medical and veterinary medical communities rarely, if ever, talk with each other even though around 60% of human pathogens and 75% of newly emerging pathogens are zoonotic (i.e. animal pathogens that infect humans.)  The vast majority of bioterrorism agents are zoonotic too.  This is not news for the veterinarians who have taught me much about microbial ecology. 

They’ve also taught me about comparative medicine: the study of disease processes across species. Animals suffer from many of the same diseases as humans—heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and so on. Many of these disease processes are similar across species. We could learn a tremendous amount if only we communicate and collaborate with each other. This is where "One Health" can play an important role. 

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