A health may be a new term to many when applied to veterinary medicine, but the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine is working to bring the idea to the forefront of its work.
One Health is the integrative effort of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally and globally to achieve optimal animal, environmental and human health.
Rebecca Christofferson, an associate professor in the Vet School’s Department of Pathological Sciences since 2015, said that for many at the LSU Vet School, the concept of One Health has been self-evident for years, but naming the initiative to improve has increased efforts locally, nationally and Working globally to achieve optimal health across the board.
“So when we’re solving a problem, we have to make sure that the Rubik’s Cube isn’t being disturbed too much,” Christofferson said.
The One Health approach is important because, to use Christofferson’s metaphor, there have been instances in the past where the Rubik’s Cube has been disrupted.
Take cow baths, for example, which were widely used in Louisiana and other southern states to treat and eradicate ticks on cattle in the first half of the 20th century. Farmers dug large holes in the ground and filled them with a mud filled with arsenic and pesticides. The farmers then led the cows through the mud, which killed the ticks. The problem was that the arsenic sludge was left in the ground to potentially seep into the water table – an approach that benefited the health of the cows but left a long-term environmental hazard that caused problems for some people.
With One Health, researchers like Christofferson have the opportunity to take a more global approach to solving these types of problems. Nevertheless, scientists can bring their personality into their research approach.
On a personal level, Christofferson loves how her research for vet school contributes to the overall health of the community – just as she loves incorporating little nods to her passion for jazz into her vet science work. As part of her mosquito collection work, she sometimes makes special trips to Roselawn Memorial Park on Baton Rouge’s North Street, where legendary jazz pianist Bill Evans is buried. Christofferson is a huge Evans fan.
“A graveyard is a really good place to catch mosquitoes,” Christofferson said. “And since I love jazz and I love Bill Evans, sometimes we catch her at his grave. It’s just our way of including him in our work.”
True, there is no viable connection between jazz and mosquitoes. But in Christofferson’s world, the notion of integration and the linking of the dots between the environment, humans and animals, even the mosquito, work hand in hand.
Christofferson has been an Associate Professor in the Department of Pathological Sciences at the Veterinary School since 2015. Her main area of study is mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit. She is assisted by research assistant Erik Turner.
Your individual field of study contributes to the overall mission of One Health, created by the school’s Dean, Oliver Garden.
He is the first to say that the idea of One Health is nothing new. It is well known that a cycle of life constantly revolves between humans, animals and the environment. If one is affected, they are all.
Though the vet school has historically focused primarily on animals, Garden views the school’s work through a different lens.
“It’s clear that diseases that threaten humans involve an animal as a host and vice versa,” Garden said. “We are interconnected and many of the diseases our veterinary patients suffer from are very similar to those in humans. And we at the vet school do at least as much research on human health as we do on animal health because we see them as inextricably linked.”
Garden added that One Health is a key concept that defines life, medicine and healthy existence in the 21st century.
“At LSU Vet Med, we embrace One Health in everything we do, whether it’s through teaching, healing, discovering and protecting,” said Garden.
Garden calls these areas “missions.”
“These missions permeate everything we do,” he said. “And part of that is that we can do both human and animal testing, including surveillance for cross-border diseases like classical swine fever, African swine fever and Newcastle disease. We also participate in the poultry health program and we are the state diagnostic testing laboratory for rabies.”
Garden also highlights Christofferson’s work, pointing out that her study of pathogens, along with how those pathogens are cultured in the environment, has a direct impact on human and animal health.
“For example, Dr. Christofferson, who works on viruses and emergency infectious diseases, worked on sarcoidosis and is now instrumental in articulating the university’s response to monkeypox,” he said.
Of course, this has nothing to do with jazz. At least not officially. But for Christofferson, Evans adds something personal to her own One Health mission when she places her mosquito traps near his grave.
The water-filled shells provide a breeding ground for fertile females, which are the only mosquitoes that bite. Males and females that are not pregnant actually feed on pollen.
“Yes, they are pollinators,” Christofferson said. “The females only need protein from the blood when they are carrying eggs.”
It’s a fact she shares as she carries the One Health mission into secondary schools and other areas of the community. She also teaches her audience how to tell the difference between male and female mosquitoes.
“The male mosquito has fuzzy antennae,” she said. “Those are just a few things they’re interested in, and we can use them to talk about other things we do.”
Christofferson and Turner enter their lab to look for a mosquito trap.
This particular trap, designed to catch adult mosquitoes, has trapped two males and one female who do not have fuzzy antennae.
“Yes, the males have the nicer antennae,” Christofferson said, laughing. “We will catch more and take them to the lab to study.”
And what are you looking for? Zoonotic viruses are viruses that infect both humans and animals.
“Most of my viruses are zoonotic,” she said. “For example, some of the viruses I’m working with are called bunyaviruses or orthobunyaviruses, and they affect both cattle and humans, and they’re transmitted by mosquitoes.”
Christofferson’s work focuses on the dengue virus, including variants such as Zika and West Nile, which cause fever, headache, vomiting, and muscle and joint pain in people living primarily in tropical environments.
“In Louisiana, we have the environmental factor for mosquitoes that carry this virus, so we can study those mosquitoes and how the environment interacts with the mosquitoes to transmit the virus,” Christofferson said.
Christofferson always keeps an eye on how she can apply her findings to the One Health initiative.
Garden is committed to doing more in spreading this message through public relations.
“We are increasingly engaging with the community through outreach programs,” Garden said. “We provide important community services and basic veterinary needs, but in doing so we will also educate.”
Garden added that the school also plans monthly community outreach programs at its library.
Garden said it’s important to spread One Health’s message through a variety of means, such as the culmination of the recent artist-in-residence program. He added that the school is establishing a program for students to pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the One Health program.
Finally, the One Health initiative is a reminder of the importance of looking at the bigger picture and connecting the dots, even if the dots involve a love of jazz and mosquitoes.