Companion animal veterinarians as One Health heroes
MeSH keywords:One Health, veterinarians, zoonoses
One Health is a concept of understanding that the health of humans, animals and our shared environment are connected. One Health encompasses much more than infectious diseases, but they are a classical example: many zoonotic infections and diseases cannot be addressed adequately without a One Health approach. The links between humans, animals, food, feed and the environment cannot be ignored.
Global and Local One Health
The One Health concept is acknowledged and embraced at the global level by the Tripartite World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and at European level by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Formal partnerships between institutes, such as the EU-co-funded One Health EJP consortium, enable and support collaboration across the different fields related to One Health and aim to improve preparedness. One Health is inherently international, but also relevant at a local scale.
Veterinarians work for better One Health every day. The veterinary profession has actively advocated One Health, but the spotlight is often on livestock veterinarians and veterinarians working in food safety. “Veterinarians are our #OneHealth heroes!” tweeted @FaoLivestock on the World Veterinary Day, April 24, 2021, without specifying the type of veterinarians.
One Health as a concept is close to the everyday work of veterinarians in companion animal practice, at different localities around this planet we all share. Health of companion animals is closely connected to the health of their owners and other humans, as well as with the health of other animals. It should be emphasized that One Health also encompasses the positive sides and benefits of having companion animals, and how veterinarians have the expertise to advice on measures that ensure safe animal ownership, animal-assisted activities, and assistance animals. Overall, companion animal veterinarians have several unique opportunities to make a difference as One Health heroes.
Furthermore, One Health is also about the health of veterinarians. Veterinarians may be exposed to numerous zoonotic pathogens in their work, and occupational health of veterinarians would merit more attention. One Health is a concept that is very close to veterinarians, every day, both globally and locally.
Unique opportunities to make a difference
Health care of companion animals is often part of a bigger picture than the health of the animals in focus. And important aim can be protecting human health, from a One Health perspective; examples include vaccinations against rabies and anthelminthic treatments against zoonotic parasites. The role of companion animal veterinarians as One Health heroes is central in communicating the importance to human health of, for example, the treatment of dogs against Echinococcus spp. and prophylaxis and early diagnosis of Dirofilaria spp. in dogs, especially in areas where the zoonotic pathogens have recently emerged. Veterinarians are valued for the unique One Health expertise and professional advice.
The zoonotic disease risks of feeding raw meat diet to pets are clearly demonstrated, and the practice should be actively advised against in the light of One Health. Raw meat in the diet has been shown to be a risk factor for example for feline T. gondii infections, which should and could be better prevented to ensure the health of cats themselves, as well as the health of other animals and humans.
Humans and companion animals can both be infected with a variety of zoonotic pathogens, and the transmission can in some cases go either way. Moreover, many of the infections are treated with same or similar medicines, exemplifying antimicrobial resistance as a One Health issue.
Awareness, prevention, and early diagnosis of zoonotic diseases are important for One Health. Preparedness for early detection of new pathogens and diseases, and pathogens infecting new host species are crucial. Companion animals share the environment with their owners and sometimes with other animals and are thus similarly exposed and may serve as sentinels or indicators of emergence and presence of pathogens, as well as other threats to One Health.
How prepared are we for a potential novel zoonotic pathogen that could emerge at the interface of humans and companion animals, or some other (e.g., chemical) threat from the shared environment manifesting first in companion animals, or a pandemic where the role of companion animals would be substantial?
Together for One Health
There are encouraging examples of One Health collaborations among veterinarians across specialty fields, and between veterinarians and medical doctors, but more could be done. For One Health, we need to work together and amplify common, clear messages.
Moreover, the One Health concept requires multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary collaborations with other expert groups. Building trust and collaborations with other fields is important in the peace time, when there is no urgent threat that needs to be addressed together. Veterinarians, including companion animal veterinarians, are key partners in One Health collaborations.
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