BY: SAMANTHA BARTLETT, DVM
As veterinarians, human health is not always specifically in our thoughts, especially in a clinical setting. Whether you are a companion animal veterinarian or a researcher in a biomedical lab, you all have an impact on human public health. Veterinarians are often the first line of defense between humans and zoonotic disease. The animals we treat are sentinels and can give advanced warning of problems in the environment and disease outbreaks that can directly impact human health and well-being.
Veterinarians and their roles in public health have become more widely recognized over the past few decades. More specifically the concept of one health has brought veterinarians to the forefront of the public health community. Veterinarians play a role in human health in almost every veterinary specialty. These roles have become more important with the increase in world travel and introduction of foreign disease. According to the CDC website, 6 out of every 10 infectious diseases is zoonotic.
Veterinary roles include wildlife management, food safety, research on vector borne diseases, and education of pet owners on zoonotic parasites. Many veterinarians work for the federal and state governments in these roles. With the increase in natural disasters causing the re-emergence of tropical diseases, veterinarians are often the first line of defense in controlling outbreaks. Veterinarians are called upon to treat food animals and minimize the economic and health impact of food animal diseases. Veterinarians have often made the first connections between animal diseases and diseases impacting humans. Veterinarians monitor and safeguard the health of service animals and emotional support animals, directly impacting the emotional health and stability of their human owners.
Commonly used examples of veterinarians having a direct effect on human health include the identification of West Nile Virus by a veterinarian and the reduction of rabies in people in the United States. Veterinarians have played a crucial role in the control of mad cow disease, brucellosis and many other diseases that are often transmitted to humans via the food supply. More commonly, veterinarians help educate the public, specifically animal owners, on the risks and transmission of zoonotic diseases. Indirectly, veterinarians guard human health by ensuring the food supply is healthy. This includes meat inspection at slaughter and overall health through the lifecycle of food animals.
Many federal agencies employ veterinarians for food inspection/safety, disease surveillance and control, biomedical research, and oversight of public health programs. State agriculture agencies employ veterinarians to protect the food animal industries and investigate animal cruelty cases. Many states also have veterinarians within the state health department. Within our communities it is a good idea to get to know your local health officials. An open dialog between veterinarians and human health workers can only strengthen the health of the community as a whole.
No matter what role we perform in veterinary medicine, it is important to remember that, either directly or indirectly, what we do has an impact on our fellow humans. This perspective can help us work with other scientists and health care workers to help with the education and promotion of important issues in the welfare of animals, humans and our environment.