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04-12-2008 - In age of pandemics, human and animal health intersect

In age of pandemics, human and animal health intersect

Published: Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 1, 2008 at 5:40 p.m.

Our nation voted for change in the last presidential election. The world community appears to approve. A strategy for fast-forwarding health care change is also receiving a heavy and favorable voter turnout globally in the scientific electorate. Unfortunately, very few in the general population are aware of this dynamic process and its great potential.

The "One Health Initiative" is a movement to forge co-equal, all inclusive communications and collaborations between physicians, veterinarians and other scientific-health related disciplines. This has been limited or absent for much of the 20th century.

When properly implemented, the sharing of scientific information will help protect and save millions of lives in present and future generations. The One Health concept is a worldwide strategy for expanding interdisciplinary interactions in all aspects of health care for humans and animals. The synergism achieved will accelerate biomedical research, enhance public health efficacy, expand the scientific knowledge base, and improve medical education and clinical care.

In the past two years, "One Health" has expanded exponentially in the scientific communities of the U.S. and many other countries. Nearly two dozen international organizations have endorsed the project, including the American Medical Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Society for Microbiology.

Several public health officials at the Florida State Department of Health have worked diligently to support and promote this endeavor. In fact, their division of environmental health publishes a quarterly One Health Newsletter online doh.state.fl.us/Environment/community/One_Health/OneHealth.html. This Web site has gained increasing attention.

This concept has worked with extraordinary synergistic results in the 19th and 20th centuries. Three examples are:

1. A physician and veterinarian research team in 1893, Drs. Theobald Smith and F.L. Kilbourne, discovered the cause of cattle fever, Babesia bigemina, and that it was being transmitted by ticks. This work helped set the stage for the discovery by Walter Reed and his colleagues of the transmission of yellow fever in humans.

2. The Ebola virus was identified as the cause of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in the 1970s through the collaboration of veterinarian Fred Murphy and physician Karl Johnson. These two made history by working closely together at the CDC on this and other topics. Hemorrhagic fever viruses are now designated by CDC as bioterrorism agents.

3. Rolf Zinkernagel (physician) and Peter Doherty (veterinarian) working together as immunologists, discovered how the immune system tells normal cells from virus-infected cells. For this, they received the 1996 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine.

In the early 21st century, emergence of deadly diseases classified as zoonoses, i.e., diseases of animal origin transmissible to humans highlighted the need for "One Health." In fact, nearly 75 percent of recently emerging infectious diseases affecting humans are zoonoses. Examples are acquired immune deficiency syndrome, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), West Nile virus and Avian Influenza H5N1. These present the urgent need for human and veterinary medicine to renew and increase collaborative efforts.

Other research on conditions such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, biomechanical devices and obesity offers golden opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations.

In 2006, Ronald M. Davis, then-president of the AMA, and AVMA president Roger Mahr struck up a unique liaison between their respective organizations. This resulted in adoption of a historic AMA One Health resolution in June 2007. Several other international health care and scientific organizations followed their lead.

An AVMA One Health task force recently formulated plans for implementing this life protecting/lifesaving strategy. The eventual formation of a "National One Health Commission" is being carefully considered. More information about this project is available on the One Health Initiative web site at onehealthinitiative.com.

Bruce Kaplan is a veterinarian who lives in Sarasota. He has held positions in public health with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an epidemiologist and the USDA's Office of Public Health and Science in Washington, D.C.


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