The Power of One

What do your next-door neighbor, your beloved family pet, and your favorite trees have in common? They’re all connected to the concept of One Health.

No, that’s not a slogan that hippies wore on their shirts at Woodstock. It’s the idea that the health of humans, animals, and the environment are all interconnected. Actually, One Health is more than an idea. Did you know that six out of every 10 infectious diseases in humans are spread from humans? Our furry friends often pick up these diseases from radical changes in their environment. Changes caused by– you guessed it, humans.

Why is One Health so important?

  • Our expanding population increases contact between human and animal habitats, increasing the risk of exposure to new viruses and bacteria.
  • We must protect our food and feed supplies from food-borne diseases to ensure animal and human health.
  • The bond between human and animals continues to grow stronger throughout society.
  • Cross-contamination from personal care and pharmaceutical products are affecting our food and water supply.

At the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, we conduct research that delves into the central role of veterinary medicine within the global concept of One Health. The integration of veterinary medicine into the One Health strategy mirrors the integrated efforts of different UF Health and UF IFAS departments to produce groundbreaking research under the same umbrella. Our research often starts with aquatic and land animals, then grows to implicate both human and environmental health.

Though One Health is a relatively new initiative at UF, we’ve already begun to see the effect of research conducted at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine. Our research programs generate new knowledge, both basic and applied, relating to the health of domestic animals and wildlife, ensuring a safe food supply, and finding a cure for certain human diseases.

Animal Health | Recent Discovery

Everyone loves dolphins, but no one loves them more than our Aquatic Animal Health team. So when a large quantity of bottlenose dolphin started dying off in the mid-Atlantic earlier this year, they knew something needed to be done. Drs. Thomas Waltzek and Jim Wellehan were brought in to work on a task force formed to investigate the unusual mortality event. Through the testing of tissue samples, Waltzek and Wellehan were able to identify a disease known as dolphin morbillivirus that bears relation to human measles. Identifying the cause through One Health enables further research to find a cure. “Moving forward, we will be working toward characterizing the genomes of dolphin morbillivirus strains to better understand the epidemiology and lethal nature of this disease,” said Wellehan. Read more.

Environmental Health | Recent Discovery

Mud and muck aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but don’t tell that to UF researcher Dr. Nancy Denslow. Denslow is conducting exciting environmental research in the world of sediment remediation– controlling the contaminants that invade our environment. Her project,  a three-year, $830,000 grant, involves the use of a tube-like sampling device to gauge — at previously unmeasurable limits — levels of both emerging and historical contaminants in the sediments of the muck farms that are located on the north shore of Lake Apopka. In addition, the project aims to measure the effect of these contaminants on two species, a black worm that likes to bury into sediments and the fathead minnow fish, once more combining the worlds of animal, human, and environmental health through One Health. Read more.

Human Health | Recent Discovery

Rats aren’t the most popular animal, and unless you’re from France, neither are snails. These creepy critters have more in common than being slightly less than cute and fluffy. As Dr. Heather Stockdale Walden and her team of UF researchers have discovered, both are carriers for a dangerous parasite that has recently expanded to five Florida counties after having been discovered for the first time in South Florida in 2015. Rat lungworm is a parasitic nematode that can cause meningitis in humans and animals. 

Dr. Walden and her team surveyed 18 counties and found nearly 23 percent of rats, 16 percent of rat fecal samples, and 2 percent of land snails tested positive for the nematode. This parasite is a perfect example of the intertwined relationship between humans, animals, and the environment. Due to increasing global temperatures, the typically tropical parasite gained the ability to live in Florida. Rats pick up the parasite, and snails ingest it by eating infected rat feces. Humans are at risk of ingesting snails by eating poorly washed lettuce and produce. As Walden stated, “The parasite is here in Florida and is something that needs to be taken seriously… The ability for this historically subtropical nematode to thrive in a more temperate climate is alarming.” Read more.

Educational Opportunities

As awareness of the importance of the One Health concept grows, learning opportunities continue to expand among professionals as well as DVM and graduate students at UF and within the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Programs currently associated with One Health at the college for D.V.M. students include:

D.V.M.-M.P.H .dual degree program, perfect for students seeking a cross-discipline in veterinary medicine and public health. Public health-trained veterinarians are uniquely qualified to address and meet the needs of emerging diseases, food system problems, and respond to acts of bioterrorism.

Other programs, offered through the One Health Center of Excellence for Research and Training, are open to non-D.V.M. students and include:

Ph.D. in One Health

Whether it be a smallpox-related virus in otters or snakes stricken with a virus from the Ebola family, our One Health researchers are constantly making new discoveries thanks to the integrated approach to animal, human, and environmental health. Veterinarians play a unique and critical role in these global research efforts due to their expansive expertise in animal health and its implications on humans and the environment. Embracing this global role is par for the course in the UF College of Veterinary Medicine’s mission to accept challenges and challenge the accepted.