How the Joint Study of Human and Animal Health Is Saving Lives
Published on July 09, 2012
A recent article published in The New York Times on the One Health Concept speaks volumes about the importance of this novel approach to medicine.
The feature, “Our Animal Natures,” is excerpted from a new book, Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing, by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers.
Why the One Health Concept Is So Important
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, One Health is the integrative effort of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment — and this article brilliantly educates the public on the principle.
Veterinarians are schooled on the One Health Concept of medicine from the moment their professional training begins. As a practicing veterinarian, I depend on my collaborations with human physicians on a daily basis to provide the best possible care for my animal patients.
One Health Initiatives That Have Already Made a Difference
Oncologists — both veterinary and human — are currently studying dogs who have cancer with the hope of conquering the disease in both species. Since dogs within a given breed are genetically very similar, the canine genome is a vital tool for the study of cancers that are common in people and dogs.
Using a One Health methodology, recent studies of dogs with osteosarcoma and lymphoma have helped to identify potential genetic targets for further study in humans with the same tumors.
The predisposition of purebred dogs to the development of certain cancers, coupled with the compressed life span of dogs compared to humans, allows researchers to rapidly identify potential genetic abnormalities as research targets in human cancers.
Another One Health effort centers on the recent multistate outbreak of salmonella in humans stemming from a Salmonella infantis contamination of dog and cat foods.
Epidemiologists uncovered the outbreak by identifying increased numbers of Salmonella infantis cases in a national foodborne illness database. Once it was discovered that pet food was the source of the infection, the foods were recalled to protect the health of the entire family — humans and pets included.
How One Health Can Even Be Applied to Mental Well-Being
Given that pets are integral members of our families, the illness and death of a pet is an important emotional health issue for many people.
Veterinarians commonly partner with colleagues in human health care for their expertise in helping pet lovers cope with the loss of a pet. Many veterinary hospitals — including the Animal Medical Center, where I practice — offer pet grief counseling.
But Dr. David Schoenfeld of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, a pediatrician renowned for his work with kids and bereavement, took it a step further with a One Health approach when he expanded his recommendations about bereavement in children to include pet loss.
These are just a few examples of how health and medicine connect all creatures. In the words of Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers, “physicians and patients [should] join veterinarians in thinking beyond the human bedside to barnyards, oceans and skies.”
Veterinarians welcome the challenge.
Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a practicing veterinarian for 25 years, is board-certified in both oncology and internal medicine. She maintains her clinical practice at The Animal Medical Center in New York City, providing primary care to her long-term patients and specialty care to pets with cancer and blood disorders.