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Here’s a chilling thought: many modern, infectious diseases can be traced back to direct contact with an animal. The term “zoonoses” as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) refers to any disease that can be transmitted from an animal to a human or human to animal without artificial intervention. The deadly plague pandemics of the middle ages come to mind as an extreme example, but milder infections (such as ringworm or lyme disease) are also possibilities. If you are determined to study infectious diseases and how to prevent zoonotic epidemics, start by obtaining an MPH degree from one of the best online master of public health degree programs.
Public health as a field is commonly defined in a variety of ways. Key points in most general definitions include the study of diseases, how disease is transmitted, researching the pathogens to prevent outbreaks, and educating the public on ways to stay healthy and avoid potential threats. As it relates to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of zoonotic outbreaks, public health in particular looks at the communicable nature of disease that can spread between species. Why does this matter? When over half the U.S. population owns a pet of some kind, it is important to know what our beloved Spot and Mittens can bring home to us. In addition, as more varieties of exotic and unusual pets are becoming more commonplace, more strains of bacteria, viruses, and parasitic infections can become possible. Reptiles and outdoor birds are seen more and more–not just in cages and coops, but in selfies and blog posts with adoring owners. Salmonella has had a resurgence from this new backyard farm movement–poor hygiene is often the culprit, but also being overly-affectionate with your chicken-pet (you can love your hen and think she is adorable, but it’s not in your best interest to kiss her). The recent Zika virus scare may have abated in its frenzy, but the virus still remains and can present many problems–this was a disease first discovered in monkeys in the 1940s and spreads through the bite of mosquitoes. Mad Cow Disease (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans) is terrifyingly fatal, and comes from eating beef from cows that were infected.
Recent North American studies have estimated that around three-quarters of all “emerging” infectious diseases are zoonotic. This is where public health professionals can make a difference–studying how pathogens are transmitted, how they can be combated, and how best to get that information to the public. Even though young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are most affected, it is critical for all of us that the dangers are known and solutions are researched and promoted. As stated by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, “health care is vital to all of us some of the time, but public health is vital to all of us all of the time.”