Bacteria harmful to humans can be contracted by drinking from bottles crawled over by rats. People can get ringworm from their cats. And bird viruses can be transmitted to humans via airborne droplets from birds' saliva, excrement, or other bodily fluids.
This spread of illnesses from animals to humans will be researched in a new partnership between students of public health in Baltimore and veterinary medicine in the Caribbean.
An agreement signed last week marks the first time The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has partnered with a veterinary school, the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in St. Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies.
"We no longer look at diseases in humans as just diseases within the human population," said Dr. Sean Callanan, dean of the veterinary school. "All these things are interlinked."
About 75 percent of new diseases affecting humans over the past decade come from pathogens in animals, Callanan said.
The agreement between Ross University and the Bloomberg School would allow students in Baltimore to travel to the Caribbean for field projects. And students at Ross could come to Baltimore to begin studies for a master's degree in public health. The exchange would begin next year.
The agreement comes as researchers embrace a "one health" concept in which students consider connections between the environment, animals and humans. For example, damage to an ecosystem can suppress immune systems in animals. The animals could become infected and spread illness to people.
"It's really about the inter-connectedness of humans and animals," said Dr. Marie Diener-West, chair of the master of public health program at Hopkins.
The agreement signed Nov. 21 will also allow for collaborative research projects among professors at both schools.