The link between human health and wildlife has been demonstrated on an unprecedented and global scale with the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of Covid-19. SARS-CoV-2 is closely related to coronaviruses, which are common in bats, but may have found their way to humans through a pangolin mediator.
This networking of human, animal and environmental health is known as a health.
However, health is more than acknowledgment of fact. The CDC defines health as a “collaborative, multisectoral and transdisciplinary approach” that aims to “achieve optimal health outcomes and understand the connection between humans, animals, plants and their shared environment”.
What does health insurance cover?
There are three key ways in which health recognizes the relationships between humans, animals and the environment.
Emerging human diseases. About three quarters of the emerging human pathogens are zoonotic, which means that they come from animals, including both SARS-CoV-2 and its predecessor SARS-CoV, but also pandemic influenza, West Nile virus, Zika virus and many other.
Environmental factors that affect the spread of pathogens. The transmission of many types of pathogens is mediated by environmental conditions. These include vector-borne diseases such as Lyme disease (transmitted by Ixodes Ticks) and Zika (transmitted from Aedes Mosquitoes). Arthropod vectors such as ticks and mosquitoes are usually very sensitive to fluctuations in environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity and precipitation, which creates and maintains the habitats that many mosquitoes need for their larvae to grow. Environmental conditions also mediate the transmission of foodborne pathogens (such as Salmonella) and water-borne pathogens (such as Cryptosporidium). Outbreaks of Cryptosporidium, which is commonly transmitted in contaminated swimming pools, quadrupled in the US between 2009 and 2016.
Transmission of human diseases to animals. These reverse zoonoses, sometimes also called Anthroponoseninclude vector-borne pathogens such as dengue virus; directly transmitted diseases such as influenza, tuberculosis, and Covid-19; and waterborne pathogens such as Cryptosporidium. Human pathogens have even been detected in populations of critically endangered species like the eastern gorilla, underscoring how our diseases can affect the well-being of some of our most closely related non-human relatives.
Who is responsible for health?
Most important of US health advocacy agencies is the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID), a division of the CDC that has offices on food, water and environmental diseases. Pathogens with great consequence such as the Ebola virus; emerging pathogens; and vector-borne diseases.
NCEZID maintains a list of outbreaks of zoonotic pathogens that are spread between animals and humans in the United States. Chief among these are enteric bacteria like Salmonella, often acquired from pets, such as the recent multiple state outbreak related to the sale of bearded dragons as pets, as shown in the CDC map below.
In addition, the CDC’s Current Outbreak List is a regularly updated resource that lists major US outbreaks, as well as international outbreaks and travel reports affecting international travelers.
The NCEZID website states, “We live in a connected world where infectious disease outbreaks are only a flight away.” Fairly true. The rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2 is just the latest example of this. But this statement is also misleading. As the bearded dragon’s eruption shows, the world “here” (wherever it is for you) is no safer than “a plane trip away”. New human pathogens have appeared on every continent (except Antarctica), as shown by a map developed by NIH Director Anthony Fauci long before Covid-19.
The World Health Organization has also adopted the one health concept. Other organizations actively involved in health include numerous U.S. federal agencies (e.g. FDA and USDA, in addition to CDC as described above) and international organizations, particularly FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and OIE ( World Organization for Animal Health)).
While health – the understanding that the health of humans, animals, and the environment is not the only way to think about emerging diseases, it is perhaps the most comprehensive. It also highlights the role of ecology as an integrative science for the planet.
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