Michael J. Day, BSc, BVMS(Hons), PhD, DSc, DECVP, FASM, FRCPath, FRCVS
The WSAVA One Health Committee (OHC) was inaugurated in 2010 at the time of the annual WSAVA Congress in Geneva. The formation of the committee was in response to the growing momentum for the concept of One Health (or One Medicine) at the time. When conceived initially, the focus of One Health was on zoonotic infectious diseases that might be transmitted from animals to man, and the way in which the control of such diseases might best be achieved through a unified medical and veterinary approach. The value of the One Health approach to infectious disease management was clearly demonstrated by the series of globally-significant human respiratory infections of animal origin (e.g., SARS coronavirus infection, avian influenza virus infection). With time, One Health broadened to include the areas of wildlife management and 'environmental health' in recognition of the fact that human infectious disease might cross the species barrier from wild animals and that environmental factors (e.g., global warming, altered land management) may also impact on the spread of infectious disease. What was lacking from the One Health paradigm was recognition of the importance of small companion animals, which in most cultures share an incredibly close relationship with the human population. The primary goal of the WSAVA OHC was (and continues to be) in ensuring that small companion animals are recognized as a significant part of One Health.
The WSAVA OHC is formed of internationally-acclaimed experts in the three key areas of One Health that are the focus of the committee's work (see below). The committee members have broad geographical representation in accord with the concept of the WSAVA 'global veterinary community.' The OHC has members from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). We have a working relationship with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva and lines of communication with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome.
The WSAVA OHC has now held four face-to-face meetings in January 2011 (Orlando, Florida), December 2011 (CDC, Atlanta, Georgia), April 2012 (Birmingham, UK), and December 2012 (Washington DC). The committee has had wide exposure in the veterinary press and has produced a series of scientific publications and conference presentations. These may all be accessed from the OHC webpages on the WSAVA website.
The areas of focus of the WSAVA committee are threefold: 1) the human-companion animal bond, 2) zoonotic infectious diseases that may be transmitted to man via companion animals, and 3) comparative and translational research involving the scientific investigation of spontaneously-arising diseases in small companion animals.
The OHC last gave a report on its activities at the 2012 WSAVA Congress in Birmingham. The aim of this presentation is to update WSAVA members on activities that have taken place since that time.
The Human-Companion Animal Bond
The OHC always places this area of activity at the top of any presentation, agenda or discussion - as there is clear recognition that this is the most fundamental area of engagement for any veterinarian working with small companion animals. There are numerous well-documented instances of the benefits to human society of keeping and interacting with companion animals (and particularly the dog). These range from the obvious use of dogs in a working capacity (e.g., shepherding dogs, dogs for protection, guide dogs for people with visual impairment or deafness) to the medical benefits for human health of interacting with a pet (e.g., pets as therapy programmes, pets trained to detect human disease) and the societal role of companion animals (e.g., in teaching children responsibility, developing reading skills, working with institutionalized individuals). The WSAVA OHC clearly supports the work of the WSAVA Wellness and Welfare committee in this important area. At present, we are working on a scientific review that examines the evidence for the value of pets in human society.
Comparative and Translational Medicine
The WSAVA OHC recognizes the power of comparative research into disease shared by man and companion animals. There is no doubt that the spontaneously arising neoplastic, degenerative, inflammatory and immune-mediated disorders that arise in dogs and cats provide a unique opportunity to explore disease pathogenesis in animal species that closely share the human environment (and therefore environmental triggers of disease) and that are more closely related to man genetically than are laboratory rodents. The genomic tools now available for exploration of canine disease make such studies particularly powerful and relevant. There are numerous examples of successful comparative research programmes, to cite just one: the work on metastasis of osteosarcoma performed under the Comparative Oncology Program at the NIH. At present the OHC is working on a review paper that will address the significance of the comparative approach in research.
Zoonotic Infectious Disease
In the past 12 months, the OHC has prioritized this aspect of One Health. There are numerous examples of important human infectious diseases that are shared by pet cats and dogs, and for which the companion animal may act as a reservoir of infection for direct or indirect (e.g., arthropod vector-borne) transmission to man. The OHC has written a review manuscript that summarizes these diseases and calls for recognition of their significance and the development of global strategies for their surveillance. At the time of writing, this manuscript has been submitted for publication. The OHC is also one of nine partners in the European Union CALLISTO project (2012–2014) - a think tank that is currently working to define and determine management strategies for companion animal zoonoses in Europe.
Of all of the companion animal zoonoses, the OHC has selected one disease as a focus and that is canine rabies infection. It is startling that there remain an estimated 55,000 human deaths annually from rabies virus infection. Most of these deaths occur in Africa and Asia, and most involve children, who are more likely to be bitten by a rabid dog. The tragedy of this situation is that canine rabies is entirely preventable by mass vaccination campaigns and it is completely feasible that the disease could be eliminated from the globe - in much the same manner as smallpox or rinderpest.
The success of mass vaccination has been clearly shown by well documented studies in endemic areas of Africa and in the management of outbreaks (e.g., on the island of Bali). The OHC is fortunate to have as a member, Dr Sarah Cleaveland from the University of Glasgow, who has worked for many years in Tanzania on the Afya Serengeti project. These studies have shown that where 70% of a village dog population can be vaccinated during an annual campaign, the incidence of canine and human rabies becomes negligible and there is significant impact on reports of human dog bites. More significantly, these campaigns also have effect on the entire ecosystem as there is reduction of rabies in village livestock and in wild animal species within the adjacent Serengeti National Park.
The WSAVA OHC has decided to highlight global canine rabies elimination as a major target and to add the weight of our large global membership to this mounting campaign. Accordingly, we have held discussions with the Global Alliance for Rabies Control and the Partners for Rabies Prevention. We have also initiated dialogue with the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) which has active rabies control programmes running in five Asian countries. In May 2012, the OHC was able to make a presentation on canine rabies elimination to the 80th General Session of the OIE in Paris. At this important forum, comprised of the Chief Veterinary Officers from 178 countries, we indicated clearly that global rabies elimination was an achievable target. At present, we are planning a joint OIE-WSAVA symposium on Companion Animal One Health (with a rabies focus) that will be held in Paris in November 2013.
The OHC has also initiated a more tangible project to contribute to rabies control programmes. Work from the Afya Serengeti project has highlighted the issue of being able to readily identify dogs that are vaccinated within a campaign area for the purpose of ensuring that the 70% vaccine coverage is achieved. To that end, we have commissioned the production of blue dog collars (stamped with the WSAVA logo and the wording 'STOPRABIES4DOG') and a matching blue wrist band (also with the WSAVA logo and wording 'STOPRABIES4MAN'). The collars will readily identify vaccinated dogs for the required period of time and the wrist bands will incentivize the human owners. With one of our sponsors, MSD Animal Health, we have produced 30,000 sets of collars and wrist bands that are currently on-trial in the Afya Serengeti project. If these are proven successful, we aim to extend their availability to other control programmes.
The work of the WSAVA OHC has been made possible through the annual donations of a group of industry sponsors. We are grateful for their continued support of this important WSAVA project.