Science & research / Planetary health
Coronavirus transmission highlights importance of ‘One Health’ principles
By Andrew Sansom | 13 May 2020 | 0
The transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, allegedly from an animal to a human and then through human-to-human spread, demonstrates how animal, human, plant and environmental health are interconnected.
That’s the message of a team of ‘One Health’ researchers at the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville, and the UT Institute of Agriculture.
One Health is a concept that recognises that humans, animals, plants and the environment are inextricably linked – and that the health of one affects the health of all. Consequently, health issues must be addressed cohesively.
The UT system plans to do just that by harnessing the statewide resources from UT Knoxville, UT Institute of Agriculture, UT Health Science Center, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to support the global One Health effort.
“COVID-19 is just one example of the importance of looking at health in a holistic framework,” said Debra Miller, interim director of the UT One Health initiative and professor in the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries and the Department of Biomedical and Diagnostic Sciences. “We’re seeing the impact of health on the economy, job security, and so much more.”
Nina Fefferman, associate director of UT One Health and a Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, said: “As people go about their daily lives now, they’re directly experiencing One Health-related issues. They may feel stress or anxiety as they take steps to keep themselves, their families, their co-workers, and their communities safe through social distancing. These mental impacts take their own physiological toll.”
Other ways people are experiencing the interconnectedness of global health include how they’re assessing their nutrition and food needs while in self-isolation, and how they’re considering the needs of and shopping for those who are vulnerable to severe illness.
“We’re keenly aware that efforts to ‘flatten the curve’ are about making sure that medical resources are available when they’re needed – supply chains and the ability to receive medical attention also are closely interwoven,” Fefferman said.
One Health data indicates that about 70 per cent of emerging infectious disease cases in humans are a consequence of spillover events from wildlife. Similarly, humans play a role in animal disease emergence by spreading infectious agents and altering environmental conditions in a way that hurts wildlife. Plant diseases disrupt major food crops, undermining national and global food security.
Added Fefferman: “While our immediate efforts may be most directed at helping combat the COVID-19 pandemic, we must also continue our efforts in other areas of health that continue to affect human, animal, agricultural and environmental health.”
Miller pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic also highlights how pathogens can change and adapt from one host to the next, especially if hosts are vulnerable.
“Reducing stress within the environment for all species is vital for any host to defend against an invading pathogen. In other words, how we treat our surrounding environment and all that inhabit it ultimately affects us,” she said.
There are many other One Health issues facing the people of Tennessee and their environment, such as chronic wasting disease, loss of pollinators, loss of biodiversity, substance abuse, food insecurity, and more.
According to Miller, if we can begin to tackle some of the broader issues – climate change, biodiversity, food insecurity – we may also curtail development of novel health issues such as COVID-19. Studying what contributed to the development of COVID-19 and its transmission will reveal the broader issues that need to be addressed.