What exactly is public health? And why should the veterinary medical world care?
First of all, "Public Health" is exactly as you would expect - the general health of the public. The World Health Organization provides the following definition:
" Public health refers to all organized measures (whether public or private) to prevent disease, promote health, and prolong life among the population as a whole. Its activities aim to provide conditions in which people can be healthy and focus on entire populations, not on individual patients or diseases."
Individual health is affected not only by our genetics and personal lifestyle choices but also by the environment around us. Where our health care system is there to help us when we are sick, our public health system strives to prevent illness from occurring. The Public Health Agency of Canada explains that our public health system has a responsibility to help protect Canadians from injury and disease and for helping them stay healthy, allowing Canadians to live longer, healthier lives. If this system is working, fewer people will become sick or injured. Public health systems are responsible for health emergencies (outbreaks and disasters/bioterrorism etc), chronic disease and injury prevention and finally health promotion (including formation of government policies that affect our health).
This brings us back to how the veterinary profession specifically can play a role. Human health is inextricably linked to animal health. Veterinary public health is incredibly wide reaching in its domains and its presence world wide in everyday life is undeniable. But how can a simple mixed animal veterinary clinic, such as Central Veterinary Services contribute? We can indeed play a very important, very active role in the public health system in several ways:
1) Educating the public about zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be passed between animals and humans) - Rabies virus, intestinal parasites, and many bacteria are a few examples of disease causing agents that can infect both humans and animals. Routine rabies vaccination and parasite prevention recommendations is standard procedure for every animal passing through our doors. It is also our responsibility to make owners aware when their pet may have an infection that can be transmitted to human members of the household.
2) Population control - by keeping populations of dogs and cats under control through spaying and neutering, we can directly decrease disease in these populations, many diseases that can be passed on to humans. It will also decrease the incidence of feral animals that can form packs and directly threaten human lives.
3) Promoting animal health - by keeping diseases such as rabies and intestinal parasites at bay in our companion animals through vaccinations and deworming treatments, we directly decrease the amount of these disease causing agents in the environment, thus decreasing the likelihood of human infection. This also include preventing and treating behavioural disorders in our companions - disorders that can break the human animal bond leading to distress of the human caregiver as well as direct aggression that can result in animal attacks on humans.
4) Strengthening the animal-human bond - in general, our pets need us, but we need our pets too. It has been proven that animals improve mood and can help combat a variety of mental illness, as well as directly help with several other conditions (epilepsy, blindness, diabetes, etc). By keeping our companion animals happy and healthy, they can continue to do their "job" in providing unconditional love and support to their caregivers.
Below, we have included various websites and articles dealing with relevant public health issues. Have a look! As always, let us know if there is any other topics you would like to see covered or if you have further questions about veterinary public health.
Global Alliance for Rabies Control: https://rabiesalliance.org/world-rabies-day/
The One Health Initiative: http://www.onehealthinitiative.com/index.php
Clostridium Difficile information : http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&A=3552