Avian influenza had yet to steal the stage last spring when two biomedical journals began planning joint issues about the relationship between animal and human health.
But the British Veterinary Association's journal, The Veterinary Record, and the British Medical Journal completed the project at a time when animal-human health connections couldn't be clearer—to the public or to the medical professions.
"We hope that, between them, the two issues give a sense of how doctors and vets are working together, and perhaps highlight areas where more could be achieved," wrote Martin Alder, editor of The Veterinary Record, and Graham Easton, MD, an assistant editor at the BMJ, in the introduction to the veterinary journal.
The veterinary journal's Nov. 26 issue explored emerging zoonotic epidemics such as avian influenza, the distribution of strains of Salmonella and Staphylococcus, and the role of veterinarians in food safety. Articles also addressed collaboration between the human and veterinary medical professions, education in both disciplines, and therapeutic applications of the bond between people and companion animals.
The Nov. 26 issue of the BMJ examined many of the same topics—as well as emerging wildlife diseases, zoonoses as agents of bioterrorism, risk assessment, and pathogen eradication. Other subjects included comparative medicine, ethical challenges, the connection between human health and nature conservation, therapy with dolphins for the treatment of depression, and synergy between public health and veterinary services in developing countries. Articles also addressed specific zoonotic diseases ranging from sleeping sickness, or African trypanosomiasis, to avian influenza.
"The confluence of human and animal health has, once again, been brought under the spotlight, this time by the current epidemic of avian influenza (H5N1) affecting poultry and humans across southeast Asia, and by its recent spread into Europe," wrote the United Kingdoms' chief veterinary officer, Dr. Debby Reynolds, and the country's chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, in a joint article.
"Understanding and developing the multiple links between these two fields is essential for the establishment of effective surveillance, preparedness, and response strategies, and for the development of appropriate government-wide risk assessment and management mechanisms."
Assistant editors Easton and Birte Twisselmann, PhD, of the BMJ hosted a Web chat on Dec. 1 about the joint issues. Participants included contributors, epidemiologists, medical students, animal activists, and other readers from as far away as India and South Africa. Discussion focused on promoting partnerships between human and veterinary medicine, with commentary about the human-animal bond and animal welfare.
"When doctors think about the relation between animals and human health, they tend to focus mainly on the hazards animals pose to humans," editors Easton and Alder wrote in the BMJ's Nov. 26 issue. "But humans pose threats to animals, too—emerging diseases can do terrible damage to wildlife and domesticated animals."
The joint issues are available free on the journals' Web sites: The Veterinary Record. (The BMJ is at www.bmj.com.)