, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 224-229
Date: 07 May 2008

From “Us vs. Them” to “Shared Risk”: Can Animals Help Link Environmental Factors to Human Health?

Abstract

Linking human health risk to environmental factors can be a challenge for clinicians, public health departments, and environmental health researchers. While it is possible that nonhuman animal species could help identify and mitigate such linkages, the fields of animal and human health remain far apart, and the prevailing human health attitude toward disease events in animals is an “us vs. them” paradigm that considers the degree of threat that animals themselves pose to humans. An alternative would be the development of the concepts of animals as models for environmentally induced disease, as well as potential “sentinels” providing early warning of both noninfectious and infectious hazards in the environment. For such concepts to truly develop, critical knowledge gaps need to be addressed using a “shared risk” paradigm based on the comparative biology of environment–host interactions in different species.