It takes a veterinarian to remind humans that we are also animals, and we have more in common with our pets than we may realize. We all share air, land and water. And we all have accidents, get infections and experience pain. We all suffer at some point in our lives.
These were among the ideas that SAGE Concord surgeon Lissa Richardson shared with nearly 100 Foothill Middle School students at a recent Career Day event. She reminded them that our health is intertwined, too. Think about it: Rabies is a virus that affects animals like dogs, skunks and raccoons, and can be transmitted to humans through a bite. The bubonic plague, an infection of the lymphatic system that killed millions during the Middle Ages, started when fleas sucked the blood of infected rats and transmitted the bacteria to unsuspecting human hosts.
Speaking to young people who may have medical or veterinary careers on their minds, Dr. Richardson introduced a perspective that holds tremendous scientific promise. Don’t think of humans and animals as polar opposites, and don’t think of health care for animals and people being in different camps, she told students. Think “One Health.”
One Health is a relatively new concept that became part of the scientific community’s discussions in the mid-2000s. Since then it has become a steadily growing movement to increase collaboration between physicians, veterinarians and other scientific health and environmental practitioners for the benefit of all species. Proponents for One Health post their multi-disciplinary, species-spanning research here, covering tick-borne illnesses, influenza, respiratory viruses and more. Why? Because humans and animals are impacted by these diseases, and research and treatments can potentially benefit multiple species.
One Health proponents still have a lot of work to do before One Health is widely accepted by the medical community. Dr. Richardson is doing her part through education and public speaking in classrooms. In fact, veterinarians were early adopters of One Health ideals. Still, many health care and veterinary practitioners and laypeople have not heard of it.
The tide is turning, and research and practice using a One Health approach have great potential.
In a 2014 TED Talk, UCLA Cardiologist Barbara Natterson-Horowitz discussed how an unexpected request to diagnose a chimpanzee’s facial droop at the Los Angeles Zoo changed the way she viewed her specialty.
“When I see a human patient now, I always ask, what do the animal doctors know about this problem that I don’t know?” Dr. Natterson-Horowitz said. “And, might I be taking better care of my human patient if I saw them as a human animal patient?”
To learn more about the One Health initiative, visit http://www.onehealthinitiative.com/index.php
 Barbara Natterson-Horowitz; Duncan C. Ferguson, Academic Editor and Margarethe Hoenig, Academic Editor. “A Physician’s View of One Health: Challenges and Opportunities.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5644612/