one healthWe all know that human and animal health is directly impacted by the surrounding environment. Less defined are the specific roles that professionals play in keeping the balance between environmental health, human health, and animal health. Veterinary professionals balance concepts about zoonotic diseases, parasites, and generalized animal medicine on on a daily basis. In doing so we not only protect our patients but safeguard their owners. 

The One Health concept highlights the direct and cyclical correlation involving human, animal, and environmental health. Each influences the other so an insult to one area negatively impacts the other two. Veterinarians not only play a role in animal health but our required understanding of the human and environmental involvement with animals make them a valuable asset when investigating disease processes that encompass all living beings. When diseases cross from our veterinary patients they are termed "zoonotic diseases". 

Human Health & Animal Health

There are over 200 documented zoonotic diseases according to the World Health Organization. Did you know rabies is one of these zoonotic diseases but that it ends in both the death of the animal and human patients? Did you also know that according to the AVMA, each year more than 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs with 20% of that number requiring medical attention? Rabies transmission is 100% preventable. Vaccination protocols are what protect people and their animal companions from acquiring the rabies virus from wildlife or other infected companion animals. A rabies vaccination is required by county law throughout all of Ohio even if a pet is strictly indoors. This safety measure is a requirement for all pets seen in our practice. 

Leptospirosis is another zoonotic disease we regularly vaccinate for a recommend as part of your dog's vaccination protocol. This deadly bacterial disease is spread in the urine of wildlife and companion animals. A simple walk in your back yard or a drink from a contaminated outdoor water source can expose your dog. Because the bacteria resides int he infected individual's kidneys, it is spread through urine allowing transmission to the next person or animal. Commonly, infected pets will have inappropriate urinations in the home so human exposure can result when cleaning up the accident. Affected patients suffer from kidney and liver disease which can result in organ failure and eventual death if left untreated. 

Zoonosis of intestinal parasites from pets to people is an often overlooked concern. Hookworms and roundworms are common in puppies and kittens but can easily be controlled with monthly preventions. Even adult patients can have flares of these parasites during times of stress so monitoring stool samples throughout their lives is important. Currently the CDC recommends fecal samples be checked every six months. Because not all deworming products are equivalent, recommendations by your veterinarian for your pet may vary. A great resource is the Companion Animal Parasite Counsel website. The alphabetized library of diseases on the home page is great resource. 

Public Health & Food Supply

cowThe United States Department of Agriculture employs veterinarians to oversee the health and well being of food animals. With poultry (chicken) being the top consumed meat source for people in the United States followed by beef and pork, veterinarians play a vital role in keeping those animals healthy and safe for human consumption. The rules and regulations involved are strict and numerous to keep not only humans healthy but the environment too. Veterinarians are also involved in the role of drug development and their uses for food animals. Antimicrobial resistance and the appropriate use of antibiotics is a subject all veterinarians and human health practitioners are familiar with. Overuse and non-compliance are some of the top causes for this problem. Judicious use of medications in food animal patients also prevents their residues from entering the food supply. 

Environmental Health 

Veterinarian training in the fields of ecology, epidemiology, and toxicology is highlighted when considering zoonotic disease potential. Concerns with wildlife protection and management can collide with livestock and human disease transmission. Medical professionals oversee proper waste disposal as specific guidelines must be followed to segregate dangerous chemicals from exposure to the environment. Veterinary expertise is utilized in emergency planning, disaster management, and recovery. Responsibilities include safeguarding livestock, monitoring the transmission of diseases for both companion and food animals, and making sure food remains safe for human consumption. 

The Big Picture

The mental picture we all hold of a veterinarian is one that cares for companion animals. This article highlights how a veterinarian's knowledge base and care extends into public health. Viewing veterinary care from the One Health perspective balances how animals, humans, and the environment are intertwined. CAPC, WHO, One Health, AVMA, and the CDC provide knowledgeable resources referring to these zoonotic disease interactions.