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November 03, 2020

One Health Day Takeover

Follow along for a special takeover from the staff of the Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine (ICM) for #OneHealthDay today.
The ICM staff work to ensure human public health and wildlife conservation using the One Health approach.  This approach shows how the health of all life is connected.  We appreciate the ties that bind the health of human and non-human animals, and the environments that sustain all life.  The COVID-19 pandemic has made it all too clear that human health depends on healthy animal populations and that we must respect wildlife species to minimize the spillover of animal pathogens to humans.  We also work to protect wildlife so we may prevent the next pandemic and to use a One Health approach to help minimize these shared pathogens (zoonoses) from spilling over into the human population.  We humans are responsible for emergence and spread of the novel coronavirus, but we have great hope that we will also contribute to the solution and make the world a healthier place for all living things! #OneHealthTakeover

What do snapping turtles and humans have in common?  We both need clean water!  Aquatic turtles such as the common snapping turtle can absorb chemicals that end up in our waterways over time, a process called bioaccumulation.  While the water that comes from our taps goes through a filtration process, the water that turtles are exposed to does not, which can affect their health.  It’s our responsibility to keep our rivers and lakes clean and clear of chemicals and trash that can be harmful to aquatic turtles and other organisms that reside in our waterways.  The Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine is studying free-living aquatic turtle health and toxin exposure to determine not only how healthy local populations are, but also as an indicator of how clean the water is—both for humans and for animals! #OneHealthTakeover 

By now, most of the world is familiar with swabbing to test for pathogens such as the coronavirus.  This is not a new thing, but a standard way of collecting samples to test for disease in both human and non-human animals.  In fact, we at the Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine regularly take swab samples of free-range turtles in our studies to test for some of most common diseases affecting chelonian (think turtles!) health today.  It’s the first step of a process that can detect infection by a pathogen such as a virus or bacterium by pinpointing part of that pathogen’s DNA or RNA in a host such as a box turtle. Whether human, turtle, or some other organism—the process for detecting pathogens, known as a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test—is generally the same, and goes to show how detecting diseases in humans is very similar to detecting diseases in animals. Much like how we need swabbing and testing for public health, we need to test animals to ensure their health, especially for those species that are threatened with extinction by diseases.  Turtles and humans—we’re not so different! #OneHealthTakeover  

Domestic animals such as livestock are an essential component of One Health.  For many people around the world, livestock are a source of high-quality nutrition and contribute to the livelihood and economic stability of households.  In addition to improving the health of people, they can also have a positive effect on surrounding ecosystems.  Because livestock tend to live near human settlements and interact with the surrounding environment, disease transfer between livestock, wildlife, and humans can be a major concern.  But did you know that livestock can also protect humans from infectious disease? 

One of the best examples of this is the concept of zooprophylaxis.  This is when livestock such as cattle draw insect vectors of diseases like malaria away from humans, thus protecting people from disease.  This protective effect can even be enhanced by treating livestock with insecticides, which can reduce the population of disease-carrying insects.  The use of zooprophylaxis to protect humans from insect-borne diseases is a new and complex but exciting idea that will require One Health-based research approaches.  Dr. Jess Carag, a postdoctoral fellow with the Living Earth Collaborative and the Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine, will be researching this by examining zebu cattle health, husbandry, and veterinary medicine in Madagascar.  Madagascar is a country that is reliant on zebu cattle but is also heavily afflicted by malaria, an insect-borne disease.  Evaluating the health of zebu cattle is essential to understanding the role they play in One Health and how they could potentially contribute to malaria control on this island nation. #OneHealthTakeover

Many of us know and love a dog that shares our home, but whether you live in the city, the suburbs, or the country, chances are you are also sharing space with other native canid species such as coyotes, red foxes and gray foxes.  Just as humans and non-human animals can share diseases, so can domestic animals and wildlife.  That means that when you vaccinate your dog against diseases such as rabies, canine distemper virus, and canine parvovirus,  you are also taking a One Health action that protects and conserves native wildlife! #OneHealthTakeover 

 The links between biodiversity, domestic animals, ecosystems, and public health are well documented, and while climate change is the most pressing environmental issue affecting health worldwide, environmental health encompasses much more.  For instance, scientists monitor microbial and chemical pollution of land, water and air, while natural resource managers monitor ecosystems and the organisms that live within them.  Because wildlife can serve as sentinels for ecosystem health, any indication of unusual wildlife mortality may point to harmful levels of toxins or the presence of pathogens in the environment that also may be harmful to human health.  Even wildlife diseases that are not transmissible to humans can affect us, such as bee diseases that result in decreased crop pollination and production.

Environmental specialists also help evaluate long-term impacts of activities such as livestock grazing on public lands and manufacturing operations.  Protecting the environment and maintaining economic development can both succeed when everyone works together to find sustainable solutions.  The good news is we can all help protect the health of the environment—even small individual actions have big impacts when multiplied by many people.  Ensuring clean water and adding more plant-based foods to one’s diet are two easy places to start. #OneHealthTakeover