Animals and humans linked in sickness, too
Authors of "Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing" visited Woodland Park Zoo this week, learning of the similarities of illnesses found in animals there and humans.
Seattle Times staff reporter
At the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, the animals' health can mirror that of humans.
Some female jaguars given hormone implants as contraception at Woodland Park and other zoos have developed breast and uterine cancers through the BRCA1 genetic mutation. After a gorilla was born at the Seattle zoo with a cleft palate in the 1990s, female gorillas were given prenatal multivitamins with folic acid.
These examples and more are explored in the new book, "Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing" written by cardiologist Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and science journalist Kathryn Bowers
This week, the authors came to Town Hall Seattle as a part of their book tour. But after hearing about "zoobiquity," Darin Collins, director of animal-health programs at the zoo, invited the authors to see how the concept influences the zoo.
"It's routine we need help from the medical community," Collins said. One example, he said, was in 1996 when a gorilla at the zoo was having a hard time giving birth, so a team of medical and veterinarian specialists, including an ob-gyn, anesthesiologist and other human physicians assisted in the process.
Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers visited several animals like zoo penguins, which are bred at Woodland Park, and learned that their counterparts in warmer regions are susceptible to mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria and West Nile virus. They also saw the tree kangaroos, native to an isolated alpine habitat in Papua Guinea, who naturally have weakened immune systems and can contract tuberculosis.
"Everywhere we looked, it overlapped. We tried to find a word for it, but we couldn't find it, so we came up with 'zoobiquity,' " Bowers said. "Zoo-" derived from Greek for "animal," and "ubiquity" for the same type of diseases across the animal kingdom.
Four and a half years ago, Bowers met Natterson-Horowitz, a UCLA cardiologist, who since 2005 has treated animals with heart conditions at the Los Angeles Zoo. Once they pieced together the phenomenon of animals developing diseases generally seen in humans, they began to write the book.
Many zoos like Woodland Park have an advisory board involving regional doctors and veterinarians, specializing in all medical fields, so when a health crisis arises in one of the zoo animals, it can be treated. But the authors found the division between human and animal health started in the late 1800s and continued to deepen.
"It surprised me that these fields weren't already collaborating," Bowers said, calling it a "parallel universe" between the branches of medicine.
As a cardiologist for 25 years, Natterson-Horowitz said from her experiences treating humans and animals alike, she learned it comes down to the patient.
"The patients are very valuable, like human patients. You still try to do everything you can to help them," she said. "It shifts your perspective on treating your patients."
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