Animals, Humans and COVID-19

    One Planet… One World… One Health
    By Suzanne Vanderhoef

    Climate change is already one of the greatest threats to both humans and animals. But it’s really important to think about climate change in terms of those other challenges that are also occurring, such as emerging infectious, like COVID-19. That’s at the core of the St. Louis Zoo’s One Health approach to virtually everything they do.

    “One Health is an idea, it’s an approach, it’s an understanding how human, animal and environmental health is completely interconnected,” explains Dr. Sharon Deem, Director of the Institute for Conservation Medicine, St. Louis Zoo.

    A prime example of that type of interconnection is the current pandemic we are now experiencing. Researchers believe COVID-19 started in animals and spread to humans in so-called wet markets that trade in wildlife.

    “Because of the way we’re mixing and matching these species that would never be together and then we move them across the globe, it really puts pressure on creating many of these pathogens that have been in the news recently, COVID-19 being the latest,” says Dr. Deem.

    And, as Dr. Deem explains,  getting through this crisis will take a broad range of people with differing expertise working together.

    “We need medical doctors, we need sociologists, we need politicians, we need educators, journalists, all these different disciplines working together to understand the challenges of these increasing wildlife and conservation and public health challenges and then primarily to come up with solutions. So, when you have these teams of multiple disciplines working together, that’s when we’re going to come up with solutions to things such as COVID-19 or climate change adaptation or any of the other challenges that we are thinking about today.”

    There are also things each of us as individuals can do, starting with staying at home and washing our hands frequently. But it can also extend beyond that, by making changes like using reusable bags when we go shopping or stopping use of plastic straws to help endangered wildlife like sea turtles.

    “I would challenge people to find that one challenge that they see out there and make that be your passion and look at ways you can be part of the solution,” says Dr. Deem. “It may seem like a little thing, but if each of us is doing a little thing it then increases and expands and I think we will start coming up with those solutions one by one.”

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