Photo by Michelle Mero Riedel
Dr. Pat Redig is the co-founder and former director of The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, an internationally known rehabilitation and research center for raptor medicine and conservation. He received both his DVM and PhD degrees in physiology from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of more than 130 scientific papers and book chapters and the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2000 University of Minnesota President’s Award for Outstanding Service, 2000 American Bald Eagle Foundation National Meritorious Service Award, 2003 Lifetime Conservation Award from the Association of Avian Veterinarians, 2007 Dean’s Circle Lifetime Achievement Award, and 2008 Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association Outstanding Faculty Award.
Profiles Online: What is your definition of One Health?
Redig: It’s a work in progress. It is a term that has bubbled to the surface, or been thrust upon us, and probably resonates well with young people getting into the field, as well as those of us who have been involved in wildlife and the health aspects of wildlife for years. It is basically a term that tells us what we have been doing. While I have specialized in raptors and birds, I have always had a broad interest in all of the hard sciences, biology, chemistry and physics, and evolution and ecology and how the whole world fits together. I have appreciated from a very early age the interrelatedness of everything and have felt that this tendency we have to compartmentalize things and view humans apart from the rest of the world in dealing with our infections and maladies is disingenuous at least and probably catastrophic at worst. In part, I think One Health is an issue of researching and understanding these issues, but also at the same time convincing and educating people about how truly interconnected we are with the rest of the world. We seem, for whatever reasons, to be living in a very anti-science period right now. Educating the public about the nature of One Health, so reasonable policy, programs, and decisions can be made and implemented, is becoming increasingly difficult (and important).
Profiles Online: What is the origin of One Health in your understanding?
Redig: There are two different things going on: There’s origin and there’s realization. The origins go back to the development of the germ theory of disease and the understanding of where these pathogens come from. This probably laid the groundwork for One Health and the realization that humans are connected to the environment. But the realizations of One Health, when it dawned on us in a meaningful way, at least in the modern era, didn’t occur until the mid-1990s, when all of a sudden the global epidemics of influenza, SARS, and HIV occurred. In the past, diseases tended to stay put, but with globalization, jet travel, and the vast movement of things around the world, literally at lightening-fast speed, the notion of One Health evolved—not only from the pathogens and hosts but also from the ability of human industry and activity to move pathogens around and expose novel populations in ways that hadn’t happened in the past. We have been moving things around the world for centuries on ships, but the quantities were smaller, the time lines were longer, and the number of hosts was fewer. We have reached a critical mass in human population, and the ability to move goods—and the parasites attached to them—around the world has facilitated the advance and development of these pathogens. One Health issues were always present, but they had to smack us in the face to realize them.
Profiles Online: Tell us a bit about your work in One Health.
Redig: In my little very specialized area, what we are talking about are pathogens and pathological processes that exist elsewhere in nature that by one means or another come to affect people at the same time they affect wildlife. There is interplay back and forth. For my entire professional career, I have focused on raptors and clinical medicine and conservation fieldwork for the restoration of endangered species. One of the longstanding problems that we have been researching and educating people about as well as trying to come to grips with is the issue of lead poisoning in bald eagles and condors from spent ammunition, particularly that used to kill big game. For a long time the issue stayed confined to the direct impact on affected birds. We didn’t look at it much beyond that. But we also knew that lead poisoning was also a problem for humans, mainly in the inner city and from children eating peeling paint on windowsills. But the question could be asked: Are hunters who eat animals killed with lead bullets affected? In 1984-86, I became involved with the Canadian Wildlife Service on work being done in indigenous people in Canada who were subsistence hunters and who were ingesting a lot of the lead. It was clearly demonstrated that adults and children who were nursing mothers who had lead in their blood were affected. So we were seeing this issue that was originally recognized in wildlife also affecting humans. We also saw that humans were the cause due to the practice of using lead ammunition and their unwillingness to use alternative ammunitions that would prevent the poisoning. So it was a blend of science, pathology, politics, and policy. All four are wrapped up in the One Health concept. Eventually we got regulations passed that eliminated the use of lead in hunting waterfowl.
Things remained in that frame and didn’t really go anywhere until about 1999, when West Nile virus hit. Now we had a pathogen that was introduced by global trade activity. We are not exactly sure how it got here, but It first showed up on the East Coast and was related to strains seen in Europe in the previous couple of years. It affected all kinds of wild birds, and it was a pathogen for people as well as horses. It turns out raptors were severely affected by it, and it was of great interest to us to know the magnitude of the impact on raptor populations. But it also became clear that because of the sensitivity of raptors they were also good sentinels for gaining knowledge about the activity of West Nile virus in a given area and providing advanced warning to human health. It is not a huge warning, but it is better than a thunderstorm when you have 15 minutes. We have a week to 10 days from when it starts showing up in raptors in a particular area and when we start seeing it in humans.
About the time we were getting a handle on West Nile, avian influenza popped up. I got very heavily involved in the surveillance of wild waterfowl, studying about the ecology of these viruses on the North American continent. Again the connection between wildlife and the interface of humans with wildlife—pathways by which these pathogens can move into human populations—certainly became a subject we were concerned about. That’s run its course. We have gained a good understanding of the virus. It still has the potential to be harmful because of its ability to mutate, but it is more of a problem in areas of the world where people have a very close association with poultry in ways that we don’t have here.
All of these events opened people’s minds to the need to study these interfaces, defining them and looking at the pathogens. Lyme disease is another great example. I didn’t do any direct research on Lyme disease, but a group of us looked at state records and pieced together the ecology, looking at the elements that defined the interfaces among people, deer ticks, and white-footed mice and how that disease operates in our environment.
Profiles Online: What changes have you seen in veterinary medicine related to One Health?
Redig: To put it in the past tense is not the correct way to look at it because it is still changing. One Health has heavily influenced the direction of the college’s strategic planning and its research and outreach programs. In 2000, I started the discussion of exploring the possibility of incorporating conservation medicine into the college’s operations of research and teaching. Groups from ecology and wildlife would meet with us to look at all the different angles and possibilities we could explore. That was fruitful over the long run in that it led to the dean of the college, who was Jeff Klausner at the time, to become interested it in. He could see some wisdom in proceeding, which ultimately led to the hiring of Katey Pelican, who has really taken it forward. As a young researcher with outstanding credentials in this area, Katey Pelican has been successful in getting some big grant money, which has attracted other people like Dominic Travis to come here. Will Hueston was a big promoter of it, bringing to it the whole idea of the food chain, food safety, and our relationship with the environment. It is getting legs. It is starting to grow. It has gone from conservation medicine to the One Health initiative.
What we are seeing now is a direct outgrowth of what we did here at The Raptor Center initially, putting the focus of veterinary medicine into wildlife. A lot of veterinary medicine and wildlife has involved zoos and things going on in Africa or somewhere else. We were able to say, “We have wildlife right here in our backyard, and there are medical and health issues that we should be concerning ourselves with.” I think we led the way on that and broke the ice. And with all the stuff that R.K. Anderson did in terms of building a strong public health program and Will Hueston with the food safety program and the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety, along with just having a strong College of Veterinary Medicine, it all came together.
What’s important is opportunity. If you look at the geography of Minnesota and what goes on here, there is no other place in the country like the Twin Cities, where major rivers—the Mississippi, the Saint Croix, and the Minnesota—converge, and where there are transitions among the eastern deciduous forest, the prairie, and the northern forest. It creates a huge amount of diversity in habitat types and the wildlife that are present. This is also the cultural center of the state as well as the commercial and media center, and the University is involved in numerous research activities and educating the next generation of health professionals. A lot of interfaces—agriculture, recreation, mining, logging—have people interacting with the environment. If you look at how the state developed, all the roads in Minnesota—the Penumbra Trail coming down from North Dakota, Highway 12, Highway 212, Highway 61, Highway 52—arrive in the Twin Cities, which focuses and concentrates human activity.
It has caused us to take a more much more prominent role in dealing with health issues at the population level. What we used to call the large animal department, people who worked with cattle and swine, given they were dealing with tens of thousands of animals, were always working at the population level, but now what they have learned and have known is being carried forward as we approach problems in wildlife and One Health.
Profiles Online: How has One Health changed wildlife services and management?
Redig: Where the conflict has been, and the message we have heard in the past from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is that the staff sees us as being involved with helping individual animals. A very important part of One Health is dealing with issues at the population level. From the point of view of wildlife management, that’s the approach the DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service take in managing populations. I think they have seen us as being too involved with individual animals and not populations, but that is clearly changing. West Nile virus, avian influenza, chronic wasting disease, and Lyme disease has the DNR at the point where it has created positions and hired people with veterinary training to work with these diseases. Thus the uptick in wildlife diseases that affect humans has changed the way the DNR approaches its relationship with wildlife disease. But it still comes back to veterinary medicine to solve the problems.
Profiles Online: What about the future of One Health? Are we on the cusp of something big?
Redig: Absolutely. All of the things that I identified earlier that led to the awareness of the importance of One Health, such as human population, global travel, the demands put on the Earth’s resources to provide for humans, more and more stuff moving around the world, pathogens, and environmental quality will continue to evolve and develop on a greater scale. It is a natural fit for the veterinary profession to play an ever-growing role to do really good things for the environment, for animals, and for people.
Download the One Health issue of Profiles