Press Release: Animals Warn of Human Health Hazards in New Canary Database

New Haven, Conn. — Yale School of Medicine has launched a state-of-the-art database funded in part by the National Library of Medicine, called the Canary Database, containing scientific evidence about how animal disease events can be an early warning system for emerging human diseases.

There have long been reports of animals succumbing to environmental hazards before humans show signs of illness, according to the project’s leader, Peter Rabinowitz, M.D., associate professor of medicine in The Yale Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program at Yale University School of Medicine.

“This concept of a ‘canary in a coal mine’ suggests that animals may be useful sentinels for human environmental health hazards,” said Rabinowitz. He points to the practice in the United States and Britain where coal miners would bring canaries into coal mines as an early warning signal for carbon monoxide and other poisonous gases. The birds, being more sensitive, would become sick before the miners, who would then have a chance to escape or put on protective respirators.

Rabinowitz said several episodes of illness in animals have been clearly linked to human health threats, including cats and mercury poisoning, and more recently wild bird mortality and West Nile Virus infection.

Rabinowitz said non-human animals could be more sensitive to many of the agents that are potential biological or chemical weapons and could therefore serve as “sentinels” for a terrorist attack. At the same time, the public health system has been slow to use animal sentinel data to detect and reduce human environmental health hazards. Rabinowitz said there is a lack of ongoing scientific communication between animal health and human health professionals about emerging disease threats. This has made it difficult to assemble the evidence about linkages between animal diseases and human health.

To address this need, Rabinowitz and his team developed The Canary Database of Animals as Sentinels of Human Environmental Health Hazards, a web-based collection of animal sentinel studies that have been collected and curated in terms of their relevance to human health. The project represents a collaborative effort between the Yale Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program, the Yale Center for Medical Informatics and the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center.

The database team is currently developing a series of evidence-based reviews focusing on the use of animal sentinel data in human health decision-making. “To do this,” Rabinowitz said, “we have to apply the principles of evidence-based medicine to a whole new field: the interface of animal and human health.”

Meanwhile, experts at the Yale Center for Medical Informatics are creating state-of-the-art knowledge integration software and information visualization tools allowing users to explore the rich database. Animal health experts at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, the nation’s primary wildlife disease research facility, provided background on potential disease transmission between humans and wildlife for emerging diseases such as monkey pox, SARS, Avian influenza, West Nile Virus and Chronic Wasting Disease.

To access the database, please visit http://canarydatabase.org/.

New Article: Pollution and amphibian limb malformation

Proximity to pollution sources and risk of amphibian limb malformation.

Authors: B Taylor, D Skelly, LK Demarchis, MD Slade, D Galusha, PM Rabinowitz

Journal: Environ Health Perspect

Year: 2005 Volume: 113 Issue: 11 Pages: 1497-501

ISSN: 0091-6765

Abstract:

“The cause of limb deformities in wild amphibian populations remains unclear, even though the apparent increase in prevalence of this condition may have implications for human health. Few studies have simultaneously assessed the effect of multiple exposures on the risk of limb deformities. In a cross-sectional survey of 5,264 hylid and ranid metamorphs in 42 Vermont wetlands, we assessed independent risk factors for nontraumatic limb malformation. The rate of nontraumatic limb malformation varied by location from 0 to 10.2%. Analysis of a subsample did not demonstrate any evidence of infection with the parasite Ribeiroia. We used geographic information system (GIS) land-use/land-cover data to validate field observations of land use in the proximity of study wetlands. In a multiple logistic regression model that included land use as well as developmental stage, genus, and water-quality measures, proximity to agricultural land use was associated with an increased risk of limb malformation (odds ratio = 2.26; 95% confidence interval, 1.42-3.58; p < 0.001). The overall discriminant power of the statistical model was high (C = 0.79). These findings from one of the largest systematic surveys to date provide support for the role of chemical toxicants in the development of amphibian limb malformation and demonstrate the value of an epidemiologic approach to this problem."

Abstract:

<blockquote>
"The cause of limb deformities in wild amphibian populations remains unclear, even though the apparent increase in prevalence of this condition may have implications for human health. Few studies have simultaneously assessed the effect of multiple exposures on the risk of limb deformities. In a cross-sectional survey of 5,264 hylid and ranid metamorphs in 42 Vermont wetlands, we assessed independent risk factors for nontraumatic limb malformation. The rate of nontraumatic limb malformation varied by location from 0 to 10.2%. Analysis of a subsample did not demonstrate any evidence of infection with the parasite Ribeiroia. We used geographic information system (GIS) land-use/land-cover data to validate field observations of land use in the proximity of study wetlands. In a multiple logistic regression model that included land use as well as developmental stage, genus, and water-quality measures, proximity to agricultural land use was associated with an increased risk of limb malformation (odds ratio = 2.26; 95% confidence interval, 1.42-3.58; p < 0.001). The overall discriminant power of the statistical model was high (C = 0.79). These findings from one of the largest systematic surveys to date provide support for the role of chemical toxicants in the development of amphibian limb malformation and demonstrate the value of an epidemiologic approach to this problem."
</blockquote>

New Article: Evidence-Based Review of Animal Sentinels

Animals as Sentinels of HUman Environmental Health Hazards: An Evidence-Based Analysis

Authors: Rabinowitz PM, Gordon Z, Homes R, Taylor B, Wilcox M, Chudnov D, Nadkarni P, Dein FJ

Journal: EcoHealth

Year: 2005 Volume: 2 Issue: 1 Pages: 26-37

ISSN: 1612-9202

Abstract:

“Despite recognition that animals could be serving as “sentinels” for environmental risks to human health, there are no evidence-based guidelines for the use of animal sentinal data in human health decision making. We performed a systematic review of the animal sentinel literature to assess the evidence linking such events to human health. A search of MEDLINE identified peer-reviewed original studies of animals as sentinels for either chemical or biological environmental hazards. A limited search of the CAB and AGRICOLA databases was also performed. We classified a random sample of 100 studies from the MEDLINE search according to species, hazard, and health outcome examined; study methods; and linkages to human health. Animal sentinel studies were difficult to locate in MEDLINE because of a lack of adequate key words for this concept. We found significant limitations in the study methods used to investigate animal sentinel events. Clear linkages to human health were frequently absent. Studies of sentinel events in animal populations hold potential for the recognition and control of human environmental health hazards, yet a number of barriers exist to using such data for evidence-based human health decision. There is a need for greater data sharing and cooperative research between human and animal health professionals regarding environmental hazards and health outcomes in animal and human populations.”

Abstract:

<blockquote>
"Despite recognition that animals could be serving as "sentinels" for environmental risks to human health, there are no evidence-based guidelines for the use of animal sentinal data in human health decision making. We performed a systematic review of the animal sentinel literature to assess the evidence linking such events to human health. A search of MEDLINE identified peer-reviewed original studies of animals as sentinels for either chemical or biological environmental hazards. A limited search of the CAB and AGRICOLA databases was also performed. We classified a random sample of 100 studies from the MEDLINE search according to species, hazard, and health outcome examined; study methods; and linkages to human health. Animal sentinel studies were difficult to locate in MEDLINE because of a lack of adequate key words for this concept. We found significant limitations in the study methods used to investigate animal sentinel events. Clear linkages to human health were frequently absent. Studies of sentinel events in animal populations hold potential for the recognition and control of human environmental health hazards, yet a number of barriers exist to using such data for evidence-based human health decision. There is a need for greater data sharing and cooperative research between human and animal health professionals regarding environmental hazards and health outcomes in animal and human populations."
</blockquote>

New Article: Outfoxing a Rash

Outfoxing a Rash: Clinical Example of Human-Wildlife Interaction

Authors: Rabinowitz PM, Gordon Z

Journal: EcoHealth

Year: 2004 Volume: 1 Issue: 4 Pages: 404-407

ISSN: 1612-9202

Abstract:

“Increasing human-wildlife contact can manifest in a variety of clinical conditions that may be overlooked by both human health and veterinaly professionals. We report on an outbreak of scabies infection in a community, affecting both animals and humans, and representing the effects of an emerging infectious disease in a wildlife population. These cases underscore the potential importanvce of “animal sentinel” events for human, animal, and ecosystem health. The treatment given to the human cases of infection ranged from aggressive therapy to watchful waiting, with similar outcomes. There is a need for further collaborative, evidence-based research by human and veterinary health professionals into the optimal treatment and prevention of infections resulting from cross-species transmission.”

Abstract:
<blockquote>
"Increasing human-wildlife contact can manifest in a variety of clinical conditions that may be overlooked by both human health and veterinaly professionals. We report on an outbreak of scabies infection in a community, affecting both animals and humans, and representing the effects of an emerging infectious disease in a wildlife population. These cases underscore the potential importanvce of "animal sentinel" events for human, animal, and ecosystem health. The treatment given to the human cases of infection ranged from aggressive therapy to watchful waiting, with similar outcomes. There is a need for further collaborative, evidence-based research by human and veterinary health professionals into the optimal treatment and prevention of infections resulting from cross-species transmission."
</blockquote>