One Health: New term, Ancient Concept

SEPTEMBER 07, 2016
Laura H. Kahn, MD, MPH, MPP
The One Health concept is simply that human, animal, and environmental health are linked. Because they are linked, complex subjects such as emerging diseases and antimicrobial resistance must be examined using an interdisciplinary, holistic approach. The term “One Health” is new, but the concept is ancient. The Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 BC) recognized that people who went to low lying swampy areas often got sick. The term “malaria” literally means “bad air.” Over 2000 years would pass before people figured out that insects, such as mosquitoes, could transmit disease.
Some of the greatest discoveries in the history of medicine and public health were made at the human-animal interface. Dr. Edward Jenner coined the term “vaccination” from the Latin word “vacca” for cow.  He used cowpox pus instead of smallpox pus during “variolation,” an ancient process developed in China or India by which small bits of dried pus from someone recovering from smallpox were scratched into the skin of a naïve person (usually a child) as a way to reduce smallpox mortality from 30+ percent to less than 5%.  A purified version of the vaccine was used to eradicate smallpox several centuries later.
Drs. Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch independently discovered the germ theory of disease by studying animal diseases.  Drs. Theobald Smith and F.L. Kilbourne, a physician-veterinarian team, discovered that ticks could transmit disease, in this case, cattle fever, caused by the parasite Babesia bigemina. The discovery that insects could spread disease was a monumental finding and helped set the stage for Dr. Walter Reed and his colleagues to prove that mosquitoes could transmit yellow fever.
To fill the communications gap between physicians and veterinarians, my colleagues and I co-founded the One Health Initiative. The One Health Initiative website ( has been serving as a global repository for all news and information pertaining to One Health since 2008. Please visit it. We look forward to any feedback that you might have. 

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