The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that the world is not adequately prepared to deal with a global pandemic. Veterinarians, farmers and those involved with zoos and wildlife feel they have much to offer human medicine, as they are acutely aware that people, animals and the environment are all closely linked.
COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can infect multiple species, including dogs and cats. It's estimated that 75 percent of newly appearing infectious diseases around the globe are zoonotic. Theories abound as to the origin on COVID-19; one theorizes that the disease originated in a bat, jumped to another species and then infected a human. Since it's recognition, dogs, cats and tigers have also been infected with the virus.
Those involved in animal health sectors believe it would be helpful for an animal health expert to assist with determining viral threats to the human population. It's thought that greater animal surveillance could detect emerging diseases earlier and prevent them from being passed to people; additional controls to prevent disease outbreaks in livestock would also be helpful.
Yet animal health is still untapped to aid in human medicine, specifically for combating diseases that threaten humans. Joe Annelli of National Association of Federal Veterinarians notes that identifying diseases in animals earlier, instead of waiting until it reaches humans and tracing it backward, could help prevent the spread to humans.
Examples of where this sort of tracing and cooperation between public and animal health would be helpful abound, including the 1999 cases of West Nile Virus that killed laughing gulls, Chilean flamingos and a bald eagle in the Bronx Zoo nearly two months before the first human cases of the disease were reported.
Now nearly 180 zoos and wildlife institutions across the U.S. have submitted samples to be a part of a surveillance system that helps the CDC prevent West Nile outbreaks. There are zoos in nearly every major city that house a variety of animals; it's believed that some animals will be susceptible to diseases before humans. However, all requests for funds to expand the program, both to include addition institutions and to assess additional diseases, have been denied.
Scientists suggest additional testing for diseases known to cross over to humans, like Ebola, would be helpful, as would testing wildlife in natural areas where they are routinely exposed to domestic animals and people. Additionally, finding not only the specie that spread the virus, but which ones may harbor the virus is important as well. One question to ponder is if COVID-19 is curbed in humans, can it still be found in bats, cats and other species where it will emerge later?
Veterinary surveillance methods could be applied to the human population, as well. Before control measures in livestock are lifted for infectious reasons, animals are randomly tested to estimate the spread of disease; this allows them to determine what is happening the animal population, not just the herd that is ill.
Read more at Undark.
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