One Health for Wildlife, Humans, and the Earth

By Heather W. Barron, DVM, DABVP

Hospital Director, CROW

Every year, tens of thousands of people grow sick from illnesses contracted from animals. These zoonotic diseases are closely monitored by health officials on both the veterinary and human medical side.

Roughly 6 out of every 10 infectious diseases in humans are spread from animals, and many of these are found in Florida. They range from A to Z—anthrax to zika and include viral diseases, like West Nile virus and avian influenza; bacterial and fungal diseases, such as leprosy and histoplasmosis; as well as parasitic diseases like raccoon roundworms and the rat lungworm.

As global warming trends continue, zoonotic diseases are spreading to areas where they might not have been seen historically. Further, the human population in southwest Florida is growing rapidly and thus interactions with wildlife are growing more frequent.

>This Mexican free-tailed bat female and nursing pup came to CROW from a colony of bats dying from rabies. Appropriate collaboration with state and local wildlife and health authorities allowed a timely diagnosis to be made and human exposure minimized.>

At CROW, we have a commitment to the One World, One Health concept which emphasizes a collaborative approach to the interrelated health of animals, people, and the ecosystem. CROW’s patient load has grown to approximately 4,000 cases per year. Wildlife patients are carefully screened for many of the diseases mentioned here and CROW works closely with organizations such as the Florida Department of Health, FWC, and SCWDS (Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study) to make sure any suspect illnesses are thoroughly investigated.

Our wild neighbors are an important part of a healthy ecosystem and it is to everyone’s benefit to realize that, even if tree and bunny-hugging are not numbered among your personal interests. Besides helping to drive a robust tourism business, wildlife can serve as a sentinel population (like the proverbial canary in the coal mine), giving us early warnings about emerging zoonoses or outbreaks of animal-borne pathogens. Further, researching how diseases behave in wildlife, or how to treat them, often gives us better information on how to care for humans or livestock with the same or similar diseases.

<Since its initial detection in the New York City area in 1999 by a wildlife veterinarian., West Nile virus (WNV) has emerged as a health risk for humans and has been associated with illness and death in a wide variety of North American birds, mammals, and reptiles. This owl was treated for severe neurological signs from WNV infection at CROW and later successfully released. < 

Recently, the rat lungworm was found in 5 Florida counties. This historically subtropical parasite can cause illness in both rats and humans and its spread within our state is concerning. Similarly, the raccoon roundworm, which historically has not been found in Florida, is also spreading throughout the state. Both parasites may cause illness or even death if contracted by people or other animals. Part of CROW’s routine disease surveillance programs include fecal examinations on patients to check for evidence of these and other parasites.

CROW provides a unique environment for the study of wildlife diseases because of our large caseload, dedicated medical team, research partners, and state-of-the-art facilities. In 2017, CROW has been involved in numerous studies designed to address problems which may challenge the conservation of wildlife species and threaten public health. We are on the front lines every single day of the year protecting you, your children and pets, your food supply, and the beautiful wildlife around you. For more information, or if you have spotted an ill animal, please contact CROW at 239-472-3644 or info@crowclinic.org

>Raccoons seen at CROW are routinely screened for raccoon roundworms and other parasites. >