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Managing the Deadly Dozen: transforming public health to "One Health"

This week the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) released a report, The Deadly Dozen: Wildlife Diseases in the Age of Climate Change, which lists 12 pathogens (including Avian Influenza, Cholera, Ebola, Lyme Disease, and Yellow fever) that are expected to spread as a result of continued climate change. WCS highlights that the spread of this deadly dozen will likely have impacts on human and wildlife health with cascading effects on the global economy. But, the report does not leave us in the dead zone. It points to how monitoring wildlife and the ecosystems in which they live can help us to manage these emergent human health threats.

This report, which draws from a new book, is just one of a series of new interdisciplinary studies (others can be found here, here, and here) that call for more proactive and holistic (“One Health”) approaches to management of emerging infectious diseases. "One Health" integrates human, animal and ecosystem health.

We are beginning to see public health training and disease management programs integrate animal health (often with a focus on livestock) into their plans. However, much less action has been taken to integrate ecosystem factors into disease management. This is not surprising given that integrating animal health into the human public health systems, although a large step institutionally, is a relatively small step conceptually. Many of the same tools and methods are common to both animal health and human health disciplines such as surveillance, vaccination, and laboratory diagnostics.

In contrasts, linking ecosystem health –including wildlife and wildlands-- and the risks of regional and global environmental change with the public health system requires a large conceptual leap. Traditionally, “environmental health” focuses on managing the health implications of pollution, toxics and occupational health. However, the environmental changes we are experiencing today, such as climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss are fundamentally different types of problems. They entail disruptive systemic changes in underlying function of the systems. Managing the health implications of these systematic changes such as WCS’s Deadly Dozen will require the conceptual leap of transforming our public health infrastructure to a one health infrastructure.

Amy Luers, Environment Program Manager, Predict and Prevent,

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