Last week, I referred to an outbreak of a new coronavirus in China. Being an epi geek, I love following and reading about disease causation, transmission and outbreak investigation. As I mentioned to some of my colleagues, this is the stuff that I get excited about and love sharing. I also know not everyone shares my love of a good outbreak, so I gave my colleagues an “opt out” option for my “Outbreak Geek Alert” emails. So far no one has opted out so maybe I’ve converted them to be as geeky as me!
The appearance of novel pathogens with epidemic potential and potentially high mortality rates have threatened global health security for centuries. The unfortunate truth is that over the past few decades, new zoonotic infectious diseases of humans caused by pathogens arising from animal reservoirs such as Ebola virus, Nipah virus, Lassa Fever virus, Hantavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, and Zika virus.
The latest outbreak is yet another example. The rapid identification and containment of the 2019-nCoV is reassuring, however, there are many unanswered questions, such as what animals or other reservoirs the virus originated from, what is the route of transmission, incubation period, or risk factors for infection, and survival rates. When it comes to coronaviruses in particular, SARS-CoV has seemingly disappeared, while MERS-CoV continues with sporadic cases and continued questions, such as the source, how it’s transmitted, and what the epidemic potential is. This latest coronavirus outbreak is a stark reminder of the continuing threat of zoonotic diseases to global health security and the need to support a collaborative global "one-health" approach in the battle against zoonotic diseases.
One Health 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 recognizing that the health of humans is CONNECTED to the health of animals and the environment and vice versa. I think we can all agree that 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. Further, 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. Lastly, the world has become a very small place with our ability to travel internationally in very short periods of time means diseases can spread quickly across the globe.
The next time you see a coyote on a walk in a park or skunk or possum in your back yard remember that where you are living may have been forest and their home before you took over the area. One Health is important, so much so that January has been designated as One Health Awareness Month. If you’re interested in learning more, follow along via social media using #onehealth.