Combatting the Spread of Zoonotic Diseases

Researchers remain uncertain of exactly where SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) came from, although many suspect the first human contracted the virus from a bat. Thus, the pandemic has shone a spotlight on zoonotic diseases, which are infectious diseases—including viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi—that can be passed from animals to humans.

In Arizona, the animal health community has long been focused on the study and containment of zoonotic diseases. That’s because Arizona is a potential hotbed for zoonotic diseases, considering our wildlife diversity, extreme climates and varying topography of our state. Flashfloods, droughts and wildfires also increase Arizona’s risk of zoonotic disease outbreak when these natural disasters force animals closer to human habitats. Zoonotic diseases that affect Arizona include hantavirus, plague, tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

What We’re Doing About It

In an effort to combat the spread of zoonotic diseases in Arizona, AZVDL joined Arizona One Health, a collaborative initiative aimed at achieving optimal health for people, animals and the environment. Arizona One Health partners include:

  • Arizona Department of Agriculture
  • Arizona Game and Fish Department
  • Arizona Veterinary Medical Association
  • Arizona Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory
  • United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) Wildlife Services
  • United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) Veterinary Services
  • National Park Service
  • Arizona Department of Health Services
  • Arizona State Public Health Laboratory
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen)

How It Works

One Health partners put together process diagrams depicting the flow of communication and collaboration among organizations should a person become sick with a clinically compatible illness after contact with an animal or the suspicion of infectious disease affecting a certain animal population. Here’s an example of how the collaboration works, according to a case study on the CDC One Health website:

  • In the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, some brown dog ticks carry a germ that causes Rocky Mountain =Spotted Fever (RMSF) in people and dogs.
  • In Arizona, free-roaming dogs were spreading infected ticks. People came down sick and some died from RMSF.
  • Utilizing the One Health network, public and animal health officials launched an initiative to combat the spread of RMSF. They outfitted free-roaming dogs with long-lasting tick collars, arranged for regular pesticide applications around homes, educated the community on the issue and provided free spay and neuter clinics for dogs.
  • After just four months, 99% of dogs in the Arizona community were tick-free, and the number of people who contracted RMSF decreased significantly.

For more, check out the Arizona One Health toolkit from the Arizona Department of Health Services.