Effort aims to enhance teamwork to improve human, animal health

A task force of physicians and veterinarians is finding common ground for their professions.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted Aug. 13, 2007

Print  |   Email  |   Respond  |   Reprints  |   Like Facebook  |   Share Twitter  |   Tweet Linkedin

Animal and human health intersect in numerous ways, and a new collaborative effort by the American Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Assn. is setting out to explore them.

The line separating animal diseases from human ones is continually blurring. Think of the ongoing avian influenza watch and recent outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome and monkeypox, said AVMA Immediate Past President Roger Mahr, DVM. In the past 25 years, he noted, 75% of emerging human diseases have been zoonotic in origin.

As one example of the teamwork needed to combat such illnesses, consider that the 1999 arrival of West Nile virus in the U.S. was detected by a persistent pathologist at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. Cases of West Nile virus, never before seen in the United States, had been incorrectly identified as St. Louis encephalitis.

In addition to infectious diseases, there are chronic diseases that are plaguing humans and their pets, said AMA President Ron Davis, MD. He helped launch the joint endeavor, called the One Health Initiative, at the AVMA's annual meeting last month in Washington, D.C. The AMA adopted policy in June pledging its support for the initiative.

Efforts by the nation's physicians to curb the epidemic of obesity among their patients is mirrored by the efforts of veterinarians to combat the increasing weight of pets, Dr. Davis said. One in every four dogs and cats in the Western world is obese, stated a 2005 National Academies of Science. The causes are too much food, too little exercise and too much junk food. "Sounds familiar to me from taking care of humans," Dr. Davis noted.

But help may be on the way, because the Food and Drug Administration has just approved a diet drug for dogs, he noted with humor. Despite the new medication, "We do want our humans to go out and walk their dogs," he said. Both would benefit.

Smoking and pets

Secondhand smoke is also a risk factor for lung diseases and other ills that affect pets and humans. Dr. Davis received a grant last year to study whether people can be persuaded to quit smoking for their pet's health if not their own.

Although studies point to the deleterious health effects of smoke on animals, "It is not known whether knowledge of these effects can prompt pet owners to quit," he said. Some early findings suggest that it can.

Of the more than 3,300 pet owners surveyed for the study, 21% of dog owners and 24% of the cat owners reported that they smoked. Both groups said they smoked in their homes, thus potentially exposing their pets to secondhand smoke. When asked whether they would try to quit, 32% said they would and 33% said they wouldn't allow smoking in the house.

"The findings suggest that getting the word out could actually get a lot of smokers to quit or at least not smoke around their pets," Dr. Davis said.

Some groups are already spreading the word. A Michigan group, for example, has developed a brochure with the message, "Do it for doggie."

Dr. Davis pointed to another memorable joint human-animal public health effort. In 1925, teams of sled dogs transported desperately needed diphtheria antitoxin, or serum, to Nome, Alaska, which was experiencing a lethal outbreak of the disease. The dogs were able to negotiate the 700 miles of rugged terrain to deliver the goods. That trail is traversed today in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Although the benefits for working together are clear, challenges lie ahead for both professions in trying to implement the new project, Dr. Mahr said. Getting all relevant government agencies on board could be difficult. And there will be logistical challenges in bringing the colleges of veterinary medicine together with the schools of medicine, he added.

A 13-member task force of physicians and veterinarians has been established to help smooth the way.

Back to top



Read story

Confronting bias against obese patients

Medical educators are starting to raise awareness about how weight-related stigma can impair patient-physician communication and the treatment of obesity. Read story

Read story


American Medical News is ceasing publication after 55 years of serving physicians by keeping them informed of their rapidly changing profession. Read story

Read story

Policing medical practice employees after work

Doctors can try to regulate staff actions outside the office, but they must watch what they try to stamp out and how they do it. Read story

Read story

Diabetes prevention: Set on a course for lifestyle change

The YMCA's evidence-based program is helping prediabetic patients eat right, get active and lose weight. Read story

Read story

Medicaid's muddled preventive care picture

The health system reform law promises no-cost coverage of a lengthy list of screenings and other prevention services, but some beneficiaries still might miss out. Read story

Read story

How to get tax breaks for your medical practice

Federal, state and local governments offer doctors incentives because practices are recognized as economic engines. But physicians must know how and where to find them. Read story

Read story

Advance pay ACOs: A down payment on Medicare's future

Accountable care organizations that pay doctors up-front bring practice improvements, but it's unclear yet if program actuaries will see a return on investment. Read story

Read story

Physician liability: Your team, your legal risk

When health care team members drop the ball, it's often doctors who end up in court. How can physicians improve such care and avoid risks? Read story

  • Stay informed
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • RSS
  • LinkedIn