As societies delve ever deeper into once-remote ecosystems, the risk that societies will encounter zoonotic diseases able to jump from animals to people increases. In these situations, the goals of public health and conservation coincide. To keep people healthy, ecosystems must be healthy, too. This concept is known as “One Health,” and has been defined as “the collaborative effort of multiple disciplines … to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment.”
Hippocrates was the first person to argue that human, animal and environmental health are interdependent. Revival of his idea led to greatly improved public hygiene in the Renaissance and thereafter. The term “One Health” itself became widely used after a 2003 Washington Post story about an earlier Ebola outbreak in which doctor of veterinary medicine William Karesh was quoted as saying, “Human or livestock or wildlife health can’t be discussed in isolation anymore. There is just one health.” The following year, Karesh and colleagues Robert Cook and Steve Osofsky launched a series of conferences around the world with the theme of “One World—One Health.”
Of the 1,415 microbes known to affect humans, 61 percent come from animals. These include long-known diseases like plague, measles, mumps, pertussis and typhus, as well as more recently discovered diseases like Ebola, Nipah, West Nile and SARS. Urbanization, international travel, climate change, deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade have increased the need for a diverse and highly integrated public health strategy. Epidemiologists, virologists and public health specialists are working with ecologists and other field biologists to study the life cycle of zoonotic diseases, track outbreaks and create healthier living environments for humans and wildlife alike.
Recognizing the threat posed to bats by outright persecution and habitat loss, BCI last year signed a Memorandum of Understanding with EcoHealth Alliance (ecohealthalliance.org) to cooperate on the protection of bats and continued study of their role in the ecology of zoonotic (animal-originating) disease. Like BCI, EcoHealth Alliance is dedicated to the conservation of biodiversity, especially in human-dominated bioscapes where ecological health is most at risk because of habitat loss, species imbalance, pollution and other environmental issues caused by human-induced change.
As the Ebola epidemic is brought under control, BCI will work with EcoHealth Alliance and other agencies and governments to determine the most effective ways to minimize human-bat interactions and break the chain of disease transmission while ensuring the lasting integrity of bats and their habitats.
For more information on the One Health concept, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov/onehealth.