Where One Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic Collide

There were two big take-home messages from the opening panel presentation on the last day of the 2021 IACUC Virtual Conference—One Health and the Intersection Between Laboratory Animal Research and Wildlife Research. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear that rather than combat infectious disease by focusing research on an individual pathogen, efforts need to be shifted to take a One Health approach which focuses on three domains: humans, animals, and the environment, and their intersection during a disease outbreak. The second take-home message was that, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the scientific community is learning so much and developing new technologies that will undeniably shape how infectious disease research is approached in the future.

The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a member of the Coronaviridea family of virus which includes alpha, beta, gamma and delta coronaviruses. Many coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning the virus is capable of spreading from an animal (usually a vertebrate) to a human. These viruses live and reproduce in a natural reservoir or host species that then typically transmits the virus to an intermediate host before infecting humans. Bats and birds are the most common natural reservoir for coronaviruses, and it is well-accepted that bats are the natural reservoir of SARS-CoV-2, while the intermediate host of the virus remains unknown.

In 1898, one of the deadliest infectious disease outbreaks in history was originally believed to be caused by Russian influenza and the Asiatic flu, but it is now believed to be the first documented human coronavirus pandemic. Since then, there have been multiple coronavirus outbreaks including the original SARS-CoV outbreak that took place in China in 2003 as well as, more recently, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) outbreak in 2012. In 2018 the WHO assigned the name Disease X as a place holder for an unknown pathogen that would cause a future pandemic. SARS-CoV-2 has met the WHO requirements to be the first Disease X. Linda Saif, MS, PhD—one of the panelists and professor at The Ohio State University who has been investigating Coronaviruses for over 30 years—noted, it is not a matter of if there will be another coronavirus pandemic, it is a matter of when.

The CDC defines One Health as, “a collaborative, multisectoral, and transdisciplinary approach—working at the local, regional, national, and global levels—with the goal of achieving optimal health outcomes recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment.” Unlike typical lab animal studies, One Health research projects encompass infectious disease surveillance where humans, animals, and the environment intersect. These types of studies are very large and often involve multiple institutions and disciplines across institutions.

So where do One Health and the COVID-19 pandemic collide? During the pandemic, there have been major outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2 in mink farms in the Netherlands. Interestingly the virus has been shown to be transmitted both from the minks to their human care takers and from the care takers to the minks. In the United States and Spain, there have been a few cases where wild minks have tested positive for the virus which is believed to have been spread environmentally through the consumption of contaminated water. The CDC, the United States Department of Agriculture, and state animal and public health officials have partnered together to take a One Health approach to provide guidance on how to prevent the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 into mink farms as well as response and containment guidance for farms. This example demonstrates the need to consider all three domains during an infectious disease outbreak: humans, animals, and the environment. Additional information on this and other One Health initiatives can be found on the CDC’s One Health webpage.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way science and research are being conducted, more and more studies have become collaborative and take a One Health approach. Individuals involved in animal research compliance should be aware of how these studies would impact their oversight practices and how they would adapt to ensure compliance. For instance, if your IACUC was presented with a One Health study, would your current protocol form require changes? What special permits might be required and who is responsible for making sure they are in place? What type of involvement might your occupational health and safety department have in the process? Does the pathogen of interest require additional biosafety measures?

Although unfortunate, most experts urge that the future likely holds another disease outbreak, and biomedical research and its compliance with a One Health position will be a major contributor to understanding future diseases, their transmission, and vaccine development. By taking a proactive approach, IACUCs that have already considered the various issues that studies of this magnitude and complexity present will be well-positioned to tackle them.

Ed. Note: In October 2021, PRIM&R hosted a webinar titled Navigating the Intersections Between Animal Care and Use and Human Subjects Oversight: Mind the Gap, which addressed using a One Health approach to manage the intersection and gaps between IACUC and IRB oversight. The recording from this webinar, as well as the recordings from IACUC21, are available for purchase in the Knowledge Center.

You can also plan ahead for the 2022 PRIM&R Annual Conference, which will bring the entire research oversight community together under one roof to support the field and our constituents in thinking holistically about the research continuum and achieving our shared goal of advancing ethical, responsible, and high-quality research.

Whitney Petrie, IACUC21 Blog Squad memberWhitney Petrie, PhD, CPIA, RLATG, is currently the Animal Care and Use Committee Vice Chair for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease within the NIH located in Bethesda, MD. Dr. Petrie earned her bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry at the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque, NM. She then went on the obtain her PhD in Biomedical Sciences in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology within the School of Medicine at the University of New Mexico. Dr. Petrie completed a Post-doctoral Fellowship in the Animal Science Department at the University of California, Davis and after completion remained at the University as member of the IACUC staff for nearly ten years. During this time, she co-edited the second edition of The Care and Feeding of an IACUC- The Organization and Management of an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Due to the size and diversity of the animal program at UC Davis, Dr. Petrie has a wide range of experience with various animal species including rodents, aquatic species, large animals, and agricultural animals.

Dr. Petrie also served as the IACUC representative for the California National Primate Research Center where she was responsible for IACUC oversight of all non-human primate protocols and lab and facility inspections. In her current role serving as the NIAID ACUC Vice Chair, she has developed specialized knowledge related to the animal care program which focuses on animal models used in infectious disease and allergy research.