It's hard to read the headlines these days and not get the message, loud and clear, that human health is directly affected by the health of animals.

Salmonella from infected wildlife or livestock spreads to produce and leads to the poisoning of hundreds across the United States. Millions of pounds of ground beef are pulled from stores after dozens become ill with E. coli-related illnesses. West Nile virus, spread from infected birds to humans via mosquitoes, continues its summer spread across the country.

To address the interconnectivity of human, animal and environmental health, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and American Medical Association (AMA) recently joined forces to establish the One Health Initiative and seek out ways to better assess, treat and prevent cross-species disease transmission.

One Health will be a focal point of this year's AVMA Convention in New Orleans July 19-22, where some of the nation's leading health experts - including veterinarians and human doctors - will gather to discuss the importance of collaboration in preventing disease outbreaks and controlling zoonotic diseases.

Topics will range from how sea otters can serve as sentinels for potentially deadly pathogens in the environment to food safety to avian influenza surveillance to the health benefits and potential risks of pet ownership.

Dr. Lonnie King, DVM, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-borne and Enteric Diseases, said people need to understand how the spheres of human, animal and environmental health are connected and together contribute to overall public health.

"One health provides the framework of how we address contemporary issues in public health," Dr. King said. "We can't understand human health issues if we just look through the lens of human health. We need to understand the role of animals, animal products, and the environment in producing healthy outcomes as well as threats to human health.

"We can't continue to look at these spheres individually," Dr. King said. "The focus has to be on how they are interconnected, and our strategy for the future is on how by improving the condition of one we can improve the conditions of the others."

Some examples of one health-related presentations include:

MRSA in Humans and Their Pets. Jeffrey Bender, DVM, professor at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, will present on a study he led to determine the risk of MRSA transmission from humans to their pets, and from pets to humans.

Melamine Case Study, International Trade and Traffic Animal Feed - Protecting Animal and Human Health. Daniel McChesney, Ph.D., with the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, will discuss how the melamine-contaminated pet food recall, in which the actions of two Chinese-based suppliers caused a massive fallout in the United States, shows how small the global market really is, and the importance of having a strong scientific capacity in our nation's food oversight infrastructure.

Role of Pets in the Family Genogram. Genograms have been used for about 20 years as an expanded family tree diagramming hereditary and psychological patterns to better display family relationships and medical histories. Dr. Kate Hodgson, DVM, will talk about how incorporating companion animals into a family genogram can help prevent and control zoonotic diseases.

Pets Motivating Physical Exercise in Their Owners. Obesity is a growing problem not just for people but their pets as well. Joe Bartges, DVM, professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, will describe the physical and mental benefits of dog walking for dogs and their owners.

Cross-Species Surveillance Contributing to One-Medicine. Loren Shaffer, Ph.D, MPH, a pioneer in developing community health surveillance systems for public health departments, will stress the importance of including pet animals in disease surveillance programs, which, according to a prospective study, may alert authorities to an outbreak up to three weeks earlier then when the first human cases are reported.

Pathogenic Organisms and Nutrients in the Marine Environment - Sea Otters as Sentinels of Pathogenic Pollution. Veterinarian David Jessup will expand on a recent article he authored in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association ("Sea Otters in a Dirty Ocean"), discussing why various forms of pollutants threaten sea otters, and the connections between sea otters, the environment and human health.

Zoo Animals as Sentinels for Emerging Zoonotic Diseases. Because more than 70 percent of zoonotic diseases in the past 60 years have emerged in wildlife, Dominic A. Travis, DVM, points to zoos as ideal sentinels for the detection of zoonotic diseases in a population.

For more information about the AVMA annual convention in New Orleans July 18-22, visit avmaconventionmedia.


The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and its more than 76,000 member veterinarians are engaged in a wide variety of activities dedicated to advancing the science and art of animal, human and public health. Visit the AVMA Web site at www.avma for more information.

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