One Medicine holds new promises for human, animal health

By Dr. Greg McGrath

We've mentioned previously in this column the concept of One Medicine -- the realization that there is much commonality between the fields of veterinary and human medicine, and that by sharing information and techniques, both sides of the equation can be helped.

Dealing with the arrival of Zika virus in the Caribbean area, and now the U.S. mainland, points out a couple of factors that are at play in both human and veterinary medicine.

One is the fact that a person or animal can get on an airline flight and be anywhere in the world in 24 hours or so. This has greatly increased the ease with which diseases can move around the planet. Zika virus is the hot topic for humans now, whereas last year, the U.S. pet owner and veterinary communities were faced with the importation of the H3N2 strain of canine influenza from South Korea to the Chicago area.

Apparently, a rescue group brought over one or more dogs that were carrying this strain of dog flu, which was previously unknown in the U.S.

Thousands of dogs were sickened in the Chicago area. From there, it spread when people traveled with their dogs.

One of the other areas that had quite a few cases was the Atlanta area, which houses one of the busiest airline hubs in the U.S. Sound suspicious? Luckily, canine influenza remains a fairly isolated disease, with sporadic outbreaks in "hot spots," but if it shows the ability to jump species and mutate frequently like flu strains that infect people have, it will be more of a problem in our pet population in the future.

Both Zika and dog flu illustrate the increased need for infectious disease screening (biosurveillance) for people and animals that are crossing borders.

Another factor that affects both human and animal health is vector control.

Zika is just the latest disease to enter the US that is transported by a vector. The most important insect and arachnid vectors in the US are mosquitoes and ticks. Each feeds on blood and may feed on multiple hosts. Mosquitoes transmit many diseases that affect humans in other parts of the world but are not common in the U.S. They include malaria and dengue, just to name a couple. Yellow fever killed many Americans in the 1800s, and it is still common in areas of South America and Africa.

Equine encephalitis viruses, which also are transmitted by mosquitoes, are present in the U.S. and can cause severe illness or death in horses and humans. The most common pet disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes is canine heartworm disease.

While there are vaccines for some of these viral diseases and we have heartworm preventive medicines for our pets, a major part of controlling the transmission of these diseases is vector control. We're already hearing in the news about the human medical system's heightened scrutiny of mosquito populations as the warm months approach. Communitywide spraying can help reduce area populations, but each of us also can take action on our own property to prevent mosquitoes from proliferating. Reducing the amount of standing water where mosquito larvae develop will help control mosquito populations. For most of us, that means not allowing water to stand around our homes in areas such as drip pans under potted plants and used tires that may hold water.

One Medicine holds new promises for the human and animal health communities to learn from and assist each other and to enhance quality of life for both humans and animals.

Dr. Greg McGrath, a veterinarian at Cedar Lake Pet Hospital in Biloxi, encourages questions for this column. Write to South Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association, 20005 Pineville Road, Long Beach MS 39560.