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Conservation medicine is an emerging, interdisciplinary field that studies the relationship between human and animal health, and environmental conditions. Also known as ecological medicine, environmental medicine, or medical geology.

Conservation medicine is that branch of science which deals with the study of comparative human and animal health and natural environmental conditions.

The environmental causes of health problems are complex, global, and poorly understood. Conservation medicine practitioners form multidisciplinary teams to tackle these issues. Teams may involve physicians and veterinarians working alongside researchers and clinicians from diverse disciplines, including microbiologists, pathologists, landscape analysts, marine biologists, toxicologists, epidemiologists, climate biologists, anthropologists, economists, and political scientists.

Clinical areas include HIV, Lyme disease, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), avian influenza, West Nile virus, Nipah virus, and other emerging infectious diseases.

The term conservation medicine was first used in the mid-1990s, and represents a significant paradigm shift in both medicine and environmentalism. While the hands-on process in individual cases is complicated, the underlying concept of interrelationships is quite intuitive, namely, that all things are related. The threat of zoonotic diseases—cross-species diseases that travel to humans from other animals—is central. For example, burning huge areas of forest to make way for farmland is normally seen as an environmental and economic concern. That action may displace a wild animal species, which comes into contact with and infects a domesticated animal species, creating a veterinary problem. The domesticated animal then enters the human food chain and infects people, and a new health threat emerges. Conventional approaches to environmental protection and animal and human health only as an exception examine these connections, whereas in conservation medicine, such relationships are fundamental. Professionals from the many disciplines involved, who usually operate in well-separated spheres, necessarily work closely together.


Social impact

By looking at the environment and health as a continuum, conservation medicine has the potential to effect rapid change in public opinion on complex societal issues, by making the distant and ill-defined, local and pressing. For instance, global warming may have vaguely defined long-term impacts, but when an immediate effect is a relatively slight rise in air temperature, which in turn raises the flight ceiling for temperature-sensitive mosquitoes, allowing them to infect higher flying migratory birds, which in turn carry a disease from one country or continent to another, the issue becomes more real. Likewise, the broad topic of suburban sprawl is made more relevant when seen in terms of the immediate imbalance it brings to rural ecosystems, which increases population densities and forces humans into closer contact with, certain animals (like rodents), increasing the risk of new cross-species diseases. Seemingly common sense scenarios like these lie at the heart of conservation medicine. When tied to actual cases (like SARS or HIV/AIDS), this holistic outlook seems likely to resonate more powerfully with the public than the more abstract explanations of environmental and health issues that are currently common.

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