As mentioned in the “Welcome to 2015” blog, this year we want to intertwine content from areas outside of healthcare. One of the areas that we want to spend more time on is around the concept of “One Health”. This is a growing movement with the intention to create interdisciplinary collaborations, research and education in all aspects of health care for humans, animals and the environment. The One Health concept recognizes that the health of humans is CONNECTED to the health of animals and the environment and vice versa.
In truth, the concept of One Health is not new. However, with the emergence and re-emergence of many diseases in recent years we are realizing that interactions among humans, animals, and the environment such as travel, how we live, and what we eat are impacting our health. Our existence is based on cause and effect. For example, yesterday while at a trade show I ate a bazillion mini-chocolates for the simple fact that they were in front of me and when it comes to chocolate, my willpower is virtually non-existent. What was the effect of eating all that chocolate? I got a headache from too much sugar.
Let’s take a look at a few cause and effect situations from interactions between humans and animals.
- Human populations are growing and expanding into areas that were previously inhabited by animals. The result being that as we increase the number of people that live in close contact with wild and even domestic animals, this closeness provides more opportunities for disease to pass between animals and people. I think most of us can give examples of how we see more wildlife in our cities. In fact in the Toronto area a black bear was recently put down because it was running around in a suburb.
- Our growth and development has caused changes to climate and land use (e.g. deforestation to build homes and intensive farming practices). The result? Disruptions in environmental conditions and habitats provide new opportunities for diseases to pass to animals.
- The world has become a very small place. Our ability to travel internationally in very short periods of time means diseases can spread quickly across the globe. Case in point, prior to 2014, who would have thought that North America would ever have seen a case of Ebola virus?
Like humans, animals share our susceptibility to diseases and changes in the environment (e.g. climate, chemical contamination). Because of this, they can serve as early warning signs of potential human illness. West Nile Virus is a great example. Birds often die of the virus before humans get sick. Being vigilant for signs of disease in animals can help protect our health or at least trigger us to look into what is going on! We will never know when the next contagion will arrive that can wipe out a significant portion of our human population. Increasing our focus in the concept of One Health and working with people from all areas; human medicine, animal medicine, and environmental science can and will ensure that we can all happily coexist for generations to come!
I hope you’ll take some time to learn more about the One Health Initiative. If you don’t do it on your own, you can be sure you’ll see blogs about it in the weeks and months to come!