A One Health viewpoint ...

COVID-19, Senior Citizens, and the One Health Connection

*Richard Seifman, JD, MBA and **Bruce Kaplan, DVM

We are in the midst of a pandemic which has affected more than 6,500,000 million people with over 194,000 deaths (and rapidly climbing) in the United States from the pandemic.

We know that nationally—but very significantly in Florida—senior citizens have been disproportionately affected, not only by the direct effect from physical harm of the virus, but by social disruption and in some cases, debilitating depression. Many friends who are considered “seniors”, a disproportionate number with underlying health issues that affect survival when challenged, now live alone because of the loss of a spouse, or opted never to marry. Some are actively engaged in politics, support non-governmental organizations, join book clubs, look to their pet as a companion, replacing human contact, are talking with relations or close friends across the country via “zoom”.  Many are coping well; many others are not doing well, beyond the physical impact of the virus and coping with a deep sense of loneliness. Explanations for this plague of loneliness abound, ranging from declining participation in organized social activities and religious organizations to the ubiquity of technology such as social media  that consume people’s attention without genuine social communication.

To put this in context, in 2009 the U.S. Senate Committee on Aging convened a hearing about loneliness and its potential consequences.  Brigham Young University Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad explained the problem  by advising that “more than a quarter of the U.S. population (28 percent of older adults) lives alone, over half the U.S. adult population is unmarried, and one in five have never married.” In the last 10 years this figure has only increased, and especially among the population over 60 years of age.

As we know, senior citizen widespread morbidity, mortality and loneliness of an unprecedented scale has been triggered by a heretofore unknown and readily transmitted infectious disease, the likes of which we have not seen for over 100 years, perhaps ever. Medical and pharmaceutical specialists on a worldwide basis are intensely researching and testing ways in the race to find safe and efficacious therapeutics and vaccines that could bring an end to this nightmare.

We need to ask ourselves why and where did this begin, what did we know or could have known, to prevent or drastically contain such a human health tragedy?

COVID-19, like many other viruses, most probably originated in an animal and crossed-over to humans. In the case of the current novel coronavirus, the likelihood is it came from a bat, moved to an undetermined intermediate animal host species, and proceeded to infect a local Chinese community. It then leaped quickly worldwide as a result of our increased modern-day mobility travel. We do know that animal- human interactions are further exacerbated by changing climate conditions, occurs with increasing frequency in many places.  In Florida we are no strangers to severe climate change, notably hurricanes, and we have many bat colonies that carry potential transmissible zoonotic diseases to us. These colonies have been dislocated as we urbanized and transformed more acreage into farming or for other purposes.

Scientists have warned about the possibility of a “One Health” amenable infectious disease catastrophe for many years. For our politicians and most casual observers, it was remote— the prospect of a meteorite hitting our neighborhood, e.g. highly unlikely and nothing much to do about it. Furthermore, other priorities needed immediate attention like fixing potholes. The frightening ubiquitous COVID-19 has dramatically changed that dynamic, as did smallpox, HIV/AIDS, Ebola and Zika. But in the past, once we had containment in hand to an extent, we returned to what we considered “return to normal” which frankly amounts to complacency.

This was, however, misguided: if we only focus on the immediate health problem, we will be unable to cope with the next endemic, epidemic, or pandemic.  As a society we need to ramp up efforts to invest in One Health research, surveillance, and preparedness, to prevent or at the very least, better control the next endemic, epidemic or pandemic.   Essentially, this means utilizing a much neglected but tried and true transdisciplinary concept to help save lives and improve the well-being of humans, animals, plants, and the environment.  “One Health” recognizes how the health of everyone contributes to the health of each species and shows how mankind can obviously impact most all parameters of life on our planet.

This will hopefully surely happen even if we do not know where, when or how. As the saying goes, “Pay Now or Pay Much More Later”.

This is where the senior community, i.e. those among us who are health literate, can play a unique and special role with reasonable conservatives and liberals joining in common cause. They can do so by becoming familiar with  human-animal-environmental health  linkages, voicing concern and advocating  to both local and national constituencies that such  investments would be time and money well spent, for all generations-unborn, new born, school age, youth workers.  In sum, a great public service around which we all can unite.

 About the Authors:

Image result for richard seifman

*Richard Seifman, JD, MBA,  Former World Bank Senior Health Advisor and U.S. alternative Representative to Food Agricultural Organization. Mr. Seifman’s parents passed away in Florida and his immediate family currently live in Florida.

Dr Bruce

**Bruce Kaplan, DVM, Current Contents Manager/Editor One Health Initiative Website, Co-Founder One Health Initiative team/website.  Dr. Kaplan has been a Florida resident for many years and currently lives in Sarasota.