One Health: Leveraging the connection between humans, animals, and the environment

What is One Health?

One Health is an approach that acknowledges the interactions between human and animal health are inextricably linked, and interdependent to the health of the surrounding ecosystem. These interactions offer opportunities for the emergence and spread of disease agents, such as chemicals, pathogens, and toxins, that could adversely impact animal health, human health, or both.

In recent years, the One Health concept has gained more recognition in both public health and animal health communities. In 2008, it became an international political reality as a recommended approach for fighting emerging and zoonotic infectious diseases. And, although the buzzword “One Health” is fairly new, the concept has long been recognized, dating back to around 400 BC with Hippocrates’ “On Airs, Waters, and Places”. Predicting, preventing, and tracking infectious disease emergence is extremely difficult, but ultimately necessary: nearly 60% of human diseases originate in animals, including 75% of all diseases that have emerged in the last two decades.

Animals, humans, and diseases

In our more densely populated, globalized world, humans and animals interact with greater frequency and intimacy. Many familiar diseases posing a serious risk to public health, such as avian influenza, rabies, brucellosis, and Lyme disease, come from animals. Even diseases that are mainly transmitted from person to person circulate in animals or have an animal reservoir, such as the recent epidemic of Ebola virus.

Beyond infections, the biological similarities between people and animals mean that we also suffer from similar medical conditions such as heart disease and cancer. These similarities allow for the development of translational treatment approaches between animals and humans that are safe and beneficial for both species. For example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a trial for experimental cancer therapy in children based on the success of a trial in dogs with the same type of cancer.

One Health isn’t just relevant to shared illnesses, however. There are unique socioeconomic and sociopolitical dynamics surrounding each disease that we face. A One Health approach is necessary for improving the welfare of both animals and humans.

One of the most significant changes in our society is the need to rapidly increase our stock of food animals to feed the quickly expanding human population. Mankind is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050; as a result, the demand for animal protein will increase by 70%. This demand has led professionals involved in agriculture, veterinary medicine, and public health to recognize the field of “veterinary public health” as a key area for providing safe and reliable food sources to feed the world. This field is aimed at addressing the complexities of the human-animal interface, and controlling zoonotic pathogens at their animal source, which is the most effective and economic way of protecting people.

Recent news that the deadly, incurable disease African swine fever (ASF) has reached Belgium has put a renewed focus on the importance of animal health research. The discovery of this highly contagious disease in two wild boars found dead has sparked calls for a mass cull of the species to protect Western Europe’s pork industry. To date, the virus has been confirmed in 75 wild boars. ASF was last seen in Belgium in 1985, which required the culling of 30,000 pigs in order to control the outbreak.

While ASF poses no direct risk to human health, its rapid spread will drive pork prices higher and may even cause a shortage. The virus can also survive in key feed ingredients, which often results in negative consequences to the cost and safety of pig feed. Ultimately, in an expanding global population, a single virus affecting a single species can have detrimental impacts on our food supply.

Moving One Health Forward

One Health requires a multidisciplinary and  integrative effort to attain optimal health for people, animals, and the environment.  This paradigm shift means education programs must facilitate collaboration across disciplines. Luckily, an increasing number of veterinary schools and animal science programs have dedicated veterinary public health and research programs. However, their visibility must increase, and funding agencies need to keep investing in this holistic approach.

One Health initiatives also need to engage and educate the public using easily communicable resources such as PreventEpidemics.org, a division of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies led by Dr. Tom Frieden. This tool clearly displays each country’s ability to find, stop and prevent epidemics, and aims to empower people who want to make their community safer.

Connect with One Health

If you are interested in learning more about One Health, be sure to check out the monthly Zoonosis & One Health Updates (ZOHU) webinars presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And show your support by following the 3rd annual global One Health Day campaign on November 3, 2018.

About the Author

anderson Lydia Anderson is a Dual DVM-Ph.D. graduate student at the University of Georgia and currently serves as an Assistant Editor for Athens Science Observer. Since completing her Ph.D. in Infectious Diseases, she has been working on her DVM at the College of Veterinary Medicine with an emphasis in public health and translational medicine. She plans to use her training to help address the questions and challenges facing One Health due to emerging and zoonotic infectious diseases. When she is not busy learning how to save all things furry and playing with test tubes, Lydia can be found either freestyle cooking for her friends and family or binge watching Netflix with her rescue pup, Luna. More from Lydia Anderson.