Pets and wild animals, a piece that public health should not forget

Hope on a Burnt Plantation, by Jo-Anne McArthur: The photographer began documenting stories of animals affected by devastating bushfires in New South Wales and Victoria. This eastern gray kangaroo and her joey, photographed near Mallacoota, Victoria, were among the lucky ones. The kangaroo barely took its eyes off Jo-Anne as she walked over to where she could take a great picture. She had just enough time to press the trigger and she was one of the survivors.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur/2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

One of the greatest plagues in European history in the 14th century was caused by a rodent. This animal carried a bacteria deadly to humans, the yersina petis, and the fleas or ticks that inhabited them transmitted it to humans. They called this event the black plague and it is estimated that it caused the death of millions of people. However, it was not the first time that this bacterium had done its thing on the continent. The journal The Lancet showed in 2014 that a lineage of the same bacterium had also been responsible for the plague of justinian in Europe, almost ten centuries ago.

These diseases, which are known in the scientific world as zoonosishave generated unforgettable havoc for universal history such as Ebola, mad cow disease and, most recently, the new coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2. Disease transmissions through contact with animals seem to increase over time, so much so that World Health Organization (WHO) ensures that 60% of infectious diseases are zoonoses. However, humans have not been the only ones affected by these diseases. The wild fauna, as Adriana Pulido, professor of parasitology at the Javeriana University, assures, has also ended up harmed.

(You may be interested in The other war waged by climate action: attacks on social networks)

In 2007, to give an example, a group of cave-loving tourists apparently transported from Europe a deadly fungus, the Pseudogymnoascus destructurans, for some North American bats. As reported by the Country of Spain at that time, the white nose syndromeas it was called, claimed the lives of millions of these animals.

Similar cases have also been reported in Colombia. in 2020 Corpocaldas warned about a possible epidemic of canine distemper in the cane foxes (Cerdocyon thous). According to the Corporation, the possible cause of infection was abandoned domestic pets that roamed the forests near the municipalities of Chinchiná, Palestina and Manizales.

(Read When cats and dogs are a threat to biodiversity)

These scenarios demonstrate that disease transmission It depends on many factors, but one thing that several experts are sure of is the role that humans play in zoonoses. “Every living being has its microorganisms, and the perfect scenario would be not to share them, history has shown us that it is impossible. Any living being that receives something foreign and the immune system does not have the ability to fight it, will get sick. For this reason, we should understand the panorama of public health as one planetary healthwhich includes caring for the environment, wild fauna and flora, domestic animals and human beings” explains Pulido, who is also director of the Hotbed of Veterinary Infectious Diseases and Zoonoses of the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana.

“In the case of zoonotic infections it is necessary to make a special call for responsible animal ownership”, says Diego Soler, a veterinarian and doctoral candidate in Agrosciences, Population Medicine and Public Health at the LaSalle University. The threat of transmission of viruses and bacteria is greater when pets do not have veterinary care. Recently, several experts have drawn attention to these cases, precisely because of the growth of the populations of dogs and cats that, only in Colombia and for 2019, exceeded eight million individualss, two more than in 2017.

One planetary health

The concept “One Health” or a health it was introduced by Calvin Schwabe, a veterinary epidemiologist in the 1970s. Schwabe picked up some positions and proposed the idea of a single medicine to integrate veterinary medicine into public health. However, the researcher Pablo Zunino, president of the Council of the Clemente Estable Biological Research Institute of Uruguay, wrote in a scientific publication in 2018 that even since Before Christ (BC) human beings were already in the task of assuming an integrating perspective about health among animals, humans and the environment. For example, says Zunino, Hippocrates (460-370 BC) formulated a pattern of seasonality in tuberculosis in which summer affected the peaks of spread, and Aristotle (384-322 BC) used the concept of comparative medicine through the study of characteristics between humans and other mammals.

With the spread of new diseases, more researchers began to think about a holistic concept of health. In 2004 the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS for its acronym in English) organized an event at the Rockefeller University, in the city of New York, which they called “One World, One Health” (which in Spanish means “One world, one health”). At the conference, the attendees formulated the “Manhattan Principles”, twelve “laws” that sought to give a comprehensive vision of health between human beings, animals and the environment. According to the document that summarizes the meeting, everything arose from the outbreaks of Ebola, SARS and monkeypox that occurred at the time.

(You may be interested in What to do so that your pet does not impact the environment? Five tips)

“To think one health it is important because there is a fairly close interrelationship between the health of the environment, animals and humans. It is also the first concept that brings together domestic and wild animals in the public health panorama,” explains veterinarian Soler, who is the leader of the Una Salud research hotbed and is part of ISOHA (International Student One Health Alliance) an international network that studies health from this concept.

In 2007 the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) created a task force to promote a unique health initiative called “One Health Initiative Task Force” (OHITF). A year later, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) used the concept of “One Health” (“One Health”) with the aim of addressing public health problems from an integrating vision between human beings, animals and the environment.

(Read This is how chickens went from being wild birds to farm animals)

“This concept is very important because it includes the human being as part of the process. The zoonotic infections occur in both directions, we also transmit, and all this process is mediated by the immune systems of each individual (including us), the environment, hygiene habits, medical visits to check health status and responsible possession of the pets”, points out Pulido.