Veterinary Issues that Demand Attention
Zoonotic diseases are those passed between humans and animals. Lyme disease, Hantavirus, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, colloquially known as "mad cow disease"), and Avian influenza are typical examples. "Emerging" zoonotic diseases are those caused by new agents or by previously known agents appearing in places or species in which the disease was previously unknown. Emerging zoonotic diseases are on the rise, due in large part to a sharply increasing human population and its expansion into new areas. Seventy-five percent of emerging infectious diseases over the past 10 years have been caused by pathogens originating from animals or their products. Veterinarians find themselves on the front lines in recognizing, diagnosing, and responding to these diseases.
Our dependence on plants and animals for food increases as rapidly as the human population expands. The demand for food is expected to increase by 50% before 2020. It is increasingly important to provide safe and adequate food and water for the world as the global population races to the brink of seven billion consumers. Veterinarians have the expertise to address food-production practices, ecosystem management, and microbial contamination problems associated with food safety.
Changes in land and water use, overgrazing, encroachment of farming and human activities onto wildlife habitat, sewage, pollutants, and introduced toxins contribute to the threats and degradation of environmental resources that sustain life. Global trading, mass transportation, industrialization of food processing, and altered tropism (organisms' natural responses to stimuli) also contribute to the increasing pressure and spread of disease and contamination. Veterinarians, with their education in multi- and cross-species biological interactions, clinical approaches, and preventive medicine, make ideal and critical public health collaborators.
Seventy-five percent of infectious agents originate from endemic infections in wildlife. Human encroachment into wildlife habitats invites these infectious agents to become pathogens for human populations. It is of the utmost importance to identify the routes by which these agents find their way to the human host, and to understand their impact on the animals that serve as the primary or intermediate hosts. The increasingly important role of wildlife within the ecosystem demands sensitive and skilled collaborative management; veterinarians are in a unique position to deploy their backgrounds and understanding of animal diseases to identify, manage, and control these diseases.
The emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance among bacteria, viruses, and other disease-causing organisms is threatening our ability to combat infectious diseases. Past misuse and poor understandings of antimicrobials have accelerated the natural evolution of pathogenic organisms to become resistant. The result today is that our weapons against these organisms are losing power. Even though the full scope of the resistance problem is largely unknown, veterinarians are on the forefront of proper use, comprehensive control measures, and research in antibiotic development and application.
The challenge to be better prepared for natural and man-made disasters is a huge concern for all, but veterinarians are in a unique position to appreciate the implications of disaster on both human and animal communities. Currently, the overwhelming majority of disaster relief efforts are targeted only at humans, but veterinarians understand the inextricable link between humans and animals. Veterinary professionals can play important roles in disasters, including provision of rescue and emergency services for humans, their pets, and livestock. Drawing on their knowledge of animal epidemiology, health, husbandry, and behavior, veterinarians can uniquely contribute to improving quality of life for both animals and humans in the event of disaster.