Veterinarians had already gone through a coronavirus pandemic before the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak.
The epidemic diarrheal virus in swine has plagued swine operations in Europe and Asia for three decades. However, in 2013 the virus came to the United States and infected millions of immunologically naive pigs. By the time the PED outbreak was contained the following year, the virus had already spread to 29 US states and killed an estimated 7 million pigs.
In the early months of 2020, when another novel coronavirus burned around the world, veterinarians were not asked about their experience of dealing with this particularly nasty family of viruses in animal populations.
“Nobody thought of reaching out to veterinarians or drawing on our research and knowledge about coronavirus,” said Dr. Laura Hungerford, professor and director of the Department of Population Health Sciences at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Nobody in the human medical community thought to ask, ‘How did you stop the PED epidemic? How useful were vaccines? What should we do to stop the spread of COVID? ‘”Said Dr. Hungerford. “There are many lessons here.”
One of these needs to be a better understanding of the public and public health members that veterinary medicine is much more than a career for people who love animals. Veterinary medicine is also a health profession that protects people at every point of contact with the rest of the animal kingdom.
The very real threat from these zoonotic diseases is practically yelling at us that a one health approach is essential.
Dr. Bruce Kaplan, co-founder of the One Health Initiative
One health now
The COVID-19 pandemic confirms what one-health advocates have been saying for years: multidisciplinary collaborations between veterinarians, physicians, and health professionals are required to address the growing public health threat posed by zoonoses.
SARS-CoV-2 is just the latest in a growing list of viruses that have passed from animal hosts to human populations. Most of the infectious diseases emerging in recent years have actually been zoonotic in nature: West Nile virus infection, avian influenza, monkey pox, severe acute respiratory syndrome, Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, and now COVID-19.
Dr. Bruce Kaplan, co-founder of the One Health Initiative team and website, envisions several potential nightmare scenarios involving these pathogens. One such scenario concerns the Nipah virus. Although few outbreaks of the Nipah virus have been reported in Asia, the World Health Organization has identified the virus as a priority disease for WHO research.
“This terrible disease can spread from bats to pigs and then to humans, and has a death rate between 40% and 75%,” said Dr. Chaplain. “There are, of course, many other candidates for zoonotic diseases that have emerged and others that will emerge in the future.
“The very real threat from these zoonotic diseases is practically yelling at us that a one-health approach is essential,” he added.
Vets in action
A paradigm shift was underway long before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention became the first and so far only federal agency to set up an office dedicated to health activities both domestically and worldwide. The current director, Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh said the CDC office has been involved in the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic from the start. The office founded and heads One Health Federal Interagency’s COVID-19 coordination group, which includes 20 federal agencies across multiple departments.
In addition, the office directs national and global strategies and priorities on the one-health aspects of the coronavirus, including monitoring and testing for SARS-CoV-2 in animals. Consultation with and technical assistance to state, local, federal and other partners; Conducting and supporting research to better understand the dynamics of transmission between humans and animals; and developing guidelines to keep people and animals safe and healthy.
“We are still learning about the virus that causes COVID-19 and more studies are needed to understand if and how various animals, including pets, could be affected by COVID-19 and what impact it will have on humans Health, “said Dr. Barton Behravesh explained. “To fill the gaps in our knowledge of SARS-CoV-2 in pets, the CDC, USDA, state public and animal health officials, and academic partners in some states are working to actively monitor SARS-CoV-2 in pets, including Cats, dogs, and other small mammals that have been in contact with someone with COVID-19.
“These animals are tested for SARS-CoV-2 infection and also tested to see whether the pet develops antibodies against this virus. This work is intended to help us better understand how common SARS-CoV-2 infection is in pets and what role pets can play in the spread of this virus. “
Before the pandemic, several federal agencies had approved the One Health concept, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Food and Drug Administration and the Food Safety and Inspection Service. However, in Washington, DC, there is a feeling that these programs are not coordinating their efforts.
Dr. Kurt Schrader, a veterinarian and U.S. Representative in Congress from Oregon, attempted to tear down those silos in 2019 with bipartisan laws he and his fellow veterinarian Dr. Ted Yoho, who has since left Congress. The promotion of emergency preparedness through a Health Act (HR 3771 / S 1903) would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services to work with other departments and relevant agencies on a national framework for health to promote federal health coordinate activities.
Although the bill didn’t make it off the committee, Dr. Schrader is reintroducing the measure during the new Congress, which, given the pandemic, could be motivated to respond to it and to similar laws.
At the frontline
Veterinary medicine is a public health profession, although it may be less obvious to veterinarians who are not directly involved in epidemiology, food safety, toxicology, and infectious disease research. The SARS-CoV-2 outbreak may have changed that as veterinarians across all sectors have stepped up their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Veterinarians were important in understanding how the novel coronavirus affected animal populations, including farm animals and pets. They spoke to the news media and reassured the public that studies so far show that no species of animal will transmit the novel coronavirus to humans, with the exception of the unidentified source and possibly the mink being farmed.
“Veterinarians have been on the front lines educating pet owners and members of the public. They also worked in local, state and federal health departments to help fight this pandemic,” said Dr. Donna DeBonis, president of the American Association of Food Veterinarians for Safety and Public Health.
Last October, the AAFSPHV awarded veterinarians worldwide with the Veterinary Safety Award of the Year 2020 for their work before, during and after the pandemic.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, interest in public veterinary health has increased and we expect the roles and opportunities for veterinarians to continue to grow,” added Dr. DeBonis added.
Governors across the country made veterinary practices an essential service, allowing the practices to stay open as much of the country has been locked down. Veterinarians showed their adaptability, no matter what profession they were in. While some vets were dealing with market disruptions and advocating safe and uninterrupted food supplies, others looked after horses, laboratory animals, zoo animals and pets. All have customized their workplaces in some way to protect their teams while continuing to care for animals and care for customers.
The emotional bond between people and their pets during the pandemic is of interest to many researchers. Early studies found that pets had a positive impact on the owner’s mental health during this particularly stressful time. For example, a study by Australian pet owners published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry in July 2020 found that pets facilitate isolation, decrease loneliness, and increase camaraderie during lockdown.
“Prepare for a beating”
As the COVID-19 pandemic stretched from days to weeks, months to a year, it became clear that the health of shame can be controversial.
Officials were denounced for shutting down large parts of society, including shops, schools and sports venues. for the requirement that masks be worn in public; and to restrict or cancel social gatherings. Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Allergy and Infectious Disease Institute, was one of several public health officials who received death threats.
“The inherently controversial nature of public health is caused by a constant tension between collective responsibility and individual behavior,” said Dr. Donald Noah, a veterinary epidemiologist who was assistant deputy secretary for the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.
Currently, Dr. Noah Associate Professor of Public Health and Epidemiology at Midwestern University College of Veterinary Medicine. Public health is best when it is apolitical. The problem is, it never is.
“I tell my students, ‘prepare for a fight,’ because one thing we as public health veterinarians should always strive for is an opinion – one that is based on evidence-based research and that is argued in a collegial manner can without turning around in attribution, which is ultimately counterproductive, ”said Dr. Noah.
Regarding the difficulty of communicating potentially controversial health information to the public, Dr. Hungerford believes that veterinarians have an advantage over their counterparts on the human side of medicine.
“Most of us in veterinary medicine work directly with communities and we understand that nobody likes to be told what to do or that we know better than the client,” said Dr. Hungerford. “Listening and appreciating where others come from is necessary in order to work towards the common good. As vets, we know this, I think more than many health professionals. “