If I asked you to think of a dangerous animal, the lowly mosquito might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But causing almost 700 million illnesses and a million deaths each year definitely earns mosquitos the top spot – malaria, dengue, West Nile virus and Zika all hitch a ride in mosquitos to spread from person to person. Mosquitos are far from the only animal that can cause disease in humans – many wild animals, farm animals and even our own pets may be harbouring viruses, bacteria or fungi that can make us sick. In fact, it has been estimated that more than 60% of known infectious diseases in humans can be spread from animals, and that 75% of emerging infectious diseases that we get originate in animals.
Almost one year ago, Nicole wrote a blog to celebrate One Health Awareness Month, a movement to recognize the connections between human, animal, and environmental health. The blog mentioned a new coronavirus that was causing an outbreak in China. As infectious disease geeks, we watched closely throughout the year as this new virus morphed into a global pandemic, bringing the whole world to a standstill. Early on, we learned that the virus most likely emerged from bats, possibly using another animal as an intermediary on its path to us. If there was any doubt about the importance of One Health before, COVID-19 has certainly put a spotlight on this issue like never before.
Although COVID has dominated the headlines for the past year, One Health is much broader than any one disease, focusing on all the ways that our health is connected with the animals and environment around us, and how experts in human, animal and environmental health can come together to work on solutions to big health challenges. This can mean everything from getting our pets vaccinated, which in turn can protect both them and us from diseases like rabies, protecting our food animals from infection, and being careful about how we interact with wildlife. As our footprint on nature becomes bigger and bigger and international travel so widespread, we create a perfect storm of conditions for a pathogen with pandemic potential to pop up.
So, has anything really changed when it comes to celebrating One Health this year? While the focus on big health problems is higher than ever, the same strategies that we know to be effective are still our best bet. This means focusing on basic infection prevention such as hand hygiene and maintaining a clean environment, practicing antimicrobial stewardship (with both people and animals), and minimizing our contact with wild animal populations. As we celebrate this year’s One Health Awareness Month, check out a quick whiteboard-style video we created in the past year to put this idea into action!