According to top health officials of America, doctors who look after animals are best placed to deal with recent human health scares.
Urging veterinarians to work more closely with human health experts in dealing with contagious diseases, Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Atlanta-based federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was quoted: "Thirteen out of the last 14 new infectious diseases that have affected people have arisen from animals.
"We need a health system that can do fast science, fast detection ... fast and effective communication, and a very, very important piece of this fast system is the alert veterinarian," she declared at the American Veterinary Medical Association's (AMVA) annual convention.
Gerberding went on to say that since animals share the same food and water supply as humans, and have greater contact with the elements, their sicknesses could provide an early alert to environmental problems, human disease and even bioterrorist attacks.
Gerberding elucidated her points with examples of the West Nile virus transmitted by mosquitoes, and the now well-known avian flu. She also included a more recent animal-human health interaction example where pet food contaminants that killed a small number of animals moved rapidly into the human food chain.
Says H. Leon Thacker, director of the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Purdue University in Indiana: "We're in a situation now where we're talking about health teams of physicians and veterinarians and nurses.
"If one of these foreign diseases gets into the country, the effect that it has is directly proportional to the amount of time it takes us to find it," Thacker warns.
These observations were heard at the AVMA meet for the launch of a new project 'One Health'. Its goal is to integrate human and animal medicine in education, public health agencies, research facilities and clinical practices, to help improve diagnosis and treatment of emerging and chronic diseases.
According to Roger Mahr, outgoing president of the veterinary association, a task force will map strategy, but one step would be for veterinary, medical and public health schools to share faculty and work together on research projects.
Says new president Gregory Hammer:"We're really approaching a crisis in veterinary medicine. Too few young people are entering the field. By 2025, it's estimated we'll have a shortage of 15,000 veterinarians".
This according to Mahr, could increase the risk that new diseases could go undiagnosed. In the past 25 years, he says, 75 percent of new infectious diseases have come from animals, and in some cases, veterinarians were the first to spot them. Animals provide food and companionship, says Mahr, and "healthy animals mean healthy people."