Reference: El Zowalaty, M.E. and Jarhult, J.D. (2020). From SARS to COVID-19: A previously unknown SARS- related coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) of pandemic potential infecting humans – Call for a One Health approach. One Health. 9:100124, pp. 1-6.
Despite the fear, destruction, and heartbreak accompanying COVID-19, its global nature has forced our world to come together in many ways. Searching for news or simply logging on to social media reflects newfound international solidarity. The pandemic is not solely a human issue, however. COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease – it originated in an animal host and was then transmitted to humans.
Recently, I read Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health, by medical doctor Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and science journalist Kathryn Bowers. In it, they speak about the cross-species relevance of many health findings. It was through this book that I was introduced to the One Health initiative, a multidisciplinary approach to healthcare incorporating information from human, animal, and environmental research.
Clienteles of medical and veterinary clinics are distinct in appearance, but human and animal physiology and medicine are not wholly separate. Numerous similarities exist between species in both bodily function and behavior. One Health highlights these similarities and addresses the necessity of cooperation between human and animal doctors to better understand disease and epidemiology.
After finishing Zoobiquity, I began searching for information on multidisciplinary research pertaining to our current crisis. It was then that I found this article discussing the relevance of a One Health approach to COVID-19. Because it is zoonotic, understanding the virus will require information on human, animal, and environmental factors. Important research foci identified in the article include decreasing transmission risk via the virus’ natural host, potential intermediate host(s), and between humans.
Doctors, epidemiologists, animal researchers, and others worldwide are working together to respond to COVID-19. Among them is Daria Tserkovnaya, a digital epidemiologist whose research focuses on the spread of misinformation about COVID-19 via the internet. When asked about the relevance of One Health to the pandemic, she stated,
“In the past 40 years the number of emerging infectious disease outbreaks has more than tripled every decade. More than two thirds of these diseases originate in animals…. With the loss of natural habitats animals come closer to the places of human habitation and that brings more diseases into the human population….”
The American Veterinary Medical Association also highlights these issues and One Health’s importance to protecting our food and animal feed. Further, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration discusses One Health benefits to comparative medicine on their website, and relevant obesity and diabetes research are outlined as examples of its value.
Since animal and ecosystem health is so important to human wellbeing, why are more people not aware of One Health? One Health policies are yet to be enacted in many parts of the world, including areas considered infectious disease hotspots. For example, though descriptions of One Health approaches in China have been published, they are yet to be fully implemented. The reference article suggest that both SARS (2002) and COVID-19 may have been prevented if the approach had been taken. Further, in March 2019, a paper was published in the journal Viruses warning of the potential outbreak of a new bat originated coronavirus in China. Had the One Health approach been enacted, greater bat coronavirus research may have impeded the spread of our current pandemic.
The Future of Zoonotic Diseases
Earlier integration of the One Health approach may have helped stymie the spread of COVID-19, but there is nothing we can do to rewrite the past. A great deal, however, can be done to protect our future. Implementation of more integrative approaches to medicine could mean earlier detection of zoonotic threats and greater transmission prevention. Public awareness of One Health’s value could also encourage policy makers to take decisive action toward funding such an approach.
As awareness of zoonotic threats increases, people will likely be more thoughtful about interacting with wildlife. As complex consequences of habitat loss and degradation become more broadly recognized, I hope we will work harder to preserve natural habitat for the animals around us. Habitat preservation does not only benefit wildlife; it could also reduce the spread of zoonotic disease as fewer animals would be forced to move into areas densely populated by humans.
For more on multidisciplinary studies regarding COVID-19, see: Bats are Not the Problem, the Wildlife Market is, Water Vapor and COVID-19: The Viral Threat of Cold Dry Weather, and Bats, Immunity, and COVID-19