The Concept of One Health

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy


The idea of a “One Health” organization started with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). In 2006, they created a multidisciplinary task force of representatives from different health professions to explore the possibility of working together on solutions and treatments.

The resulting One Health Initiative promotes active collaboration among professionals caring for animals and professionals caring for humans. Their vision statement says that they are “dedicated to improving the lives of all species, human and animal, through the integration of human medicine, veterinary medicine and environmental science.”

Thinking about human and animal health together makes sense in many ways, especially given that more than 50% of households have pets. Pets can be a source of infection and contagion for households with infants, the elderly, and those who have a compromised immune system. Veterinarians are the best source of information on the types of infections that can appear in animals, and how those infections are best treated. Proper treatment of infections in pets may be the first step toward eradicating infections in their human owners. At a minimum, practitioners in human health should be inquiring about household pets as part of their routine intake procedures.

We often hear about people who are allergic to animals (which can be a sentinel of a less than optimal immune system and adrenal functioning); however, pets have allergies too. In some cases, the humans and their pets can be suffering from similar environmental assaults. Understanding what is happening in the human might shed light on the maladies of the pet, and vice versa.

You may have heard the expression “canary in the coal mine” used as a warning or sign of danger. This came about when miners would take a canary into a mine to gauge air quality. If it was compromised, the canaries would be the first to show it, alerting the miners it was time to get out. In a similar vein, pets can convey a health warning to their owners. Because pets are usually smaller in size than their human owners, they may be affected by chemicals sprayed on lawns and used in carpet cleaning, or by exposures to heavy metals like lead, sooner than humans. Both people and their pets are at risk, but the veterinarian may be the first healthcare practitioner to identify the risk.

The One Health initiative also covers mental health. The book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky relates information gleaned from observing the animal kingdom. It discusses how stress is responsible for many chronic diseases, and how coping with stress can help alleviate disease. The book title illustrates that, if there is no lion present, zebras don’t worry about the next lion. Humans, on the other hand, who tend to worry constantly, are laying a foundation for illnesses.

The many health benefits enjoyed by people who keep pets as companions include contributions to their mental, psychological, emotional and physical well-being. The book Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat by David Dosa documents the wonderful empathy people experienced with this nursing home cat, which had very positive effects on the nursing home clients and their families.

The One Health Initiative extends its influence worldwide. Environmental issues like those killing the bee populations can have consequences that we haven’t even begun to understand in both human and animal health. With worldwide concern and resources, this collaboration is a positive step toward preserving our world, the animals in it, and our own health.

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Additional Resources:

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