With burgeoning demands on our health care system, we must find better ways to maintain good health, prevent disease and treat illness - not just for Canadians but also for our neighbours around the world.
The University of Guelph is one of the few universities in the world where researchers study both animal health and human health and the interface between them. Guelph expertise in the life sciences expands that scope to include health issues in food, lifestyle and environment.
Featured story: One world, one approach to health
Human, animal and environmental health interconnected in nature and at new centre
By Robert Fieldhouse
Public health scares — whether from E. coli, Salmonella, SARS, avian influenza or H1N1 — seem to appear with increasing regularity. As the list grows, so does the idea that human health, animal health and environmental health are inextricably linked. It’s a concept called one health, and it’s driving the University of Guelph’s Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses (CPHAZ). Prof. Jan Sargeant, the centre’s director, says this approach addresses heightened concern about zoonotic diseases (those that can be transferred between animals and humans). About 60 per cent of human pathogens originate in animals. That’s why scientists from diverse backgrounds embrace CPHAZ’s collaborative atmosphere as they examine human interactions with livestock and companion animals to achieve the one-health goal.
“The spirit of the centre is this whole concept of one health,” says Sargeant. “You can’t separate animal health, human health and the environment.”
CPHAZ has six themes — zoonoses, antimicrobial resistance, environmental health, food safety, water safety and public health policy. The goal is to forge connections between researchers focusing on animal health and those involved in public health, and to provide new avenues to share ideas and scientific equipment. Education and outreach programs include public health graduate programs as well as a website, a blog and best-practices guidelines.
The centre also bridges academia and government with its work on antibiotic resistance. For example, Profs. Patrick Boerlin, Pathobiology, and Scott McEwen, Population Medicine, collaborate with the Public Health Agency of Canada to study why some bacteria become resistant to antibiotics in the first place, how that resistance spreads, the risks associated with it and strategies that can prevent it.
CPHAZ is committed to public outreach, says Sargeant. Prof. Scott Weese and post-doc Maureen Anderson of the Department of Pathobiology worked with Hamilton Public Health and Community Services to set up the Worms & Germs Blog (www.wormsandgermsblog.com) to fill a gap in knowledge about zoonotic disease risks associated with pets. It provides fact sheets for doctors, veterinarians, pet owners and children.
Weese also studied dogs that visit hospitals and suggests that stricter guidelines and sanitation rules may prevent pets from spreading disease as they visit hospital patients to provide companionship.
The environment also plays a huge public health role. Climate change, globalization, pollution and ecosystem health all contribute to the one-health equation. Extreme weather, for example, increases the spread of water-borne disease. And improperly managed agricultural production systems could affect the environment and have health consequences.
There’s no single key to one health, says Sargeant, but the focus is on preventive measures rather than a treatment or curative approach. Even simple strategies go a long way, such as handling food properly and keeping an eye on children at a petting zoo.
Ongoing benefits are expected as CPHAZ engages more than 50 scientists from 14 departments who contribute to its activities. “Creating the centre didn’t make the University of Guelph a leader in animal-related aspects of public health — it already was,” says Sargeant. “This helps to focus it.”
The Guelph-based centre has received funding and collaboration from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs; Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety; the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care; the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion; the Public Health Agency of Canada through the Laboratory for Foodborne Zoonoses; the Centre for Foodborne, Environmental and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases; and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.