The threat of the Zika virus has loomed large in the run up to the 2016 Olympic Games, with 40 affected territories and countries in the Americas confirmed since the outbreak began in 2015. Host country Brazil has seen 1,616 cases alone. But last week, news broke of an experimental animal vaccine which could offer protection for the human population.
While this is a hopeful development, animal medicines leading to benefits for human health is not a new phenomenon, nor is the potential risk from diseases which pass between humans and animals, known as zoonoses. With 75 per cent of emerging infectious diseases from the last 10 years originating from animals, there is an ever-increasing likelihood that the next big pandemic will be zoonotic in nature.
To mark World Zoonoses Day (6th July 2016), experts from the global animal medicine association, HealthforAnimals, have highlighted the risk zoonotic diseases already pose to highlight the need for urgent focus. These diseases include Ebola and rabies (which causes one human death every 15 minutes).
Executive Director for HealthforAnimals, Mr Carel du Marchie Sarvaas comments: “To combat the global zoonotic threat, HealthforAnimals advocates the use of preventative veterinary medicines and the widespread use and development of vaccines. For example, rabies causes more than 60,000 deaths each year but is entirely preventable through canine vaccination programmes.”
Leptospirosis is another major, yet under-recognised global threat to public health. However, there is a vaccine for pets against the bacterial infection, which is most commonly spread by rodents.
The World Health Organization has set up the Leptospirosis Burden Epidemiology Reference Group in partnership with other international actors to conduct global research. The aim is to collect transmission data and create a policy targeted towards decreasing the burden of the disease. Pet owners are also encouraged to vaccinate as a way to best protect themselves from infection which can be passed on through direct or indirect contact with contaminated animal tissues, organs, or urine.
Mr du Marchie Sarvaas continues: “Protecting animals from these diseases has many benefits, from safeguarding human health to supporting greater animal welfare around the world.
“Whilst there are often barriers to implementing preventative veterinary medicines and vaccines in the fight against the spread of zoonotic diseases, the animal health industry must work together with NGOs, inter-governmental bodies, governments and regulators around the world to encourage access to medicines. Otherwise the cost will continue to be human lives.”
To find out more about zoonotic and vector borne diseases and the ways in which animal health plays a role in safeguarding human wellbeing, visit healthforanimals.org or follow the conversation on twitter @Health4Animals.