Goddard Forum's inaugural Pa. One Health Symposium focuses on zoonotic diseases

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A unique gathering of physicians, veterinarians, ecologists and conservationists took place in Hershey recently with the goal of improving human, animal, plant and ecosystem health in Pennsylvania.

The inaugural Pennsylvania One Health Symposium, which focused on zoonotic diseases — infectious diseases that are caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi spread between animals and people — was sponsored by the Maurice K. Goddard Chair in Forestry and Environmental Resource Conservation in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Lead speakers at the symposium were Dr. Laura Kahn, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University; Jack Shere, chief veterinary officer, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; Peter Hudson, Verne M. Willaman Professor of Biology and director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Penn State; and James Holt, Pennsylvania Animal Health and Diagnostic Commission member.

One Health recognizes that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment. It is a collaborative, transdisciplinary approach working at the local, regional, national and global levels with the goal of achieving optimal health outcomes. It recognizes the interconnection between people, animals, plants and their shared environment.

"The One Health approach is important because six out of every 10 infectious diseases in humans are spread from animals," said Calvin DuBrock, Goddard chairholder. "Our domestic animals and wildlife can sometimes serve as important early warning sentinels of environmental problems and potential illness in people. For example, birds dying from West Nile virus before people get sick with West Nile virus fever."

DuBrock believes citizens should be encouraged that Pennsylvania leaders are concerned about the health of people, animals and the environment and are taking action to ensure a better future for the state's citizens and the things they value. Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences and Penn State Extension are helping inform the effort, he added.

A One Health task force made up of representatives from seven Commonwealth agencies, two federal agencies and partners from several universities are collaborating on health issues such as rabies, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, avian influenza, antimicrobial resistance and cyanobacteria.

Included are representatives from the state departments of Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources, Environmental Protection, Health, and Transportation; Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency; the state Fish and Boat Commission; the Pennsylvania Game Commission; the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee; Temple University; University of Pennsylvania; Penn State; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Veterinary Services; and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services.

One of the goals of the recent forum was to facilitate the development and implementation of a One Health strategic action plan for the Commonwealth. The task force is principally concerned with enhancing public and interdisciplinary professional awareness and knowledge about infectious diseases, hazardous substances and other factors that affect human, animal, plant, environmental and ecosystem health, and with promoting collaborative action.

In addition, the task force will provide a platform for interagency guidance and action on surveillance, prevention and intervention to address diseases and other issues that compromise the Commonwealth's human, animal, plant, environmental and ecosystem health. 

DuBrock said actions might take the form of proposed legislation, administrative policy, specific cooperative research projects, improved data sharing and data management, development of specific websites, marketing campaigns, education campaigns, social media communications, and funding requests.  

"This started as principally an animal health discussion, but it has expanded recognizing that animal health is linked to human health and environmental health issues," DuBrock said. "We've drafted a One Health executive order that has been approved by the task force and participating cabinet secretaries and is now in the governor's policy office. Our vision is a healthier Commonwealth: healthier people, animals, plants and ecosystems that support a healthy economy."

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Last Updated September 07, 2018