UF One Health Center of Excellence tackles issues at the intersection of human, animal and environmental health

By Jill Pease

von Fricken, Mike
Dr. Michael von Fricken

Avian influenza. Antimicrobial resistance. Rift Valley Fever virus. Dengue. Tune into any news outlet and you’ll likely find coverage of a health issue that demonstrates the close link between the health of humans, animals and the environment. The University of Florida One Health Center of Excellence, housed in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, is leading the way in collaborative science to address these existing and emerging health threats.

The discipline of One Health seeks to understand the complex systems at the intersection of human and animal health and the environments they share. One Health issues have continued to grow in importance with climate change, an increase in contact between humans and wild and domestic animals, and expanded global travel.

Center director Michael von Fricken, Ph.D., M.P.H., leads faculty and student efforts to co-advance the health of humans, animals, plants and the environment.  

“As the director of the One Health Center of Excellence, I aim to foster an environment where students and scholars from across disciplines can come together to address pressing issues associated with climate change, antimicrobial resistance, food security and wildlife conservation in a rapidly changing world,” said von Fricken, also an associate professor in the PHHP department of environmental and global health and a member of UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute.

Dr. von Fricken traveled to the Gobi Desert in May to collect ticks as part of ongoing Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever surveillance and monitoring. The two-hump Bactrian camel, also known as the Mongolian camel, has long been used as a pack animal. Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever disease antibodies have been found in many wild and domestic species in Asia, Africa and Europe, including camels.

The UF PHHP department of environmental and global health was the first in the nation to offer academic programs in One Health, which include a master’s degree, a doctoral degree and a certificate program.

In his research, von Fricken directs multiple ongoing projects in Kenya, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti and Mongolia focused primarily on diseases, such as malaria and dengue, that are spread by mosquitoes, as well as emerging tick pathogens, including spotted fever group rickettsia, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever and tick-borne encephalitis virus.

He has been designated as a visiting scientist at both the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the Navy Entomology Center of Excellence, and holds a research associate position with the Smithsonian Institution Global Health Program. He received both his M.P.H. and his Ph.D. in public health, environmental health concentration, from the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, followed by a postdoctoral research position in infectious diseases at Duke University. Prior to joining UF in 2023, von Fricken was a tenured associate professor at the George Mason University College of Public Health.

“Dr. von Fricken brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and passion for public health and infectious diseases to the One Health Center of Excellence,” said Beth A. Virnig, Ph.D., M.P.H., dean of the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions. “His contributions in research, education and service exemplify his dedication to improving global health outcomes and training the next generation of One Health thinkers.”

Students and faculty celebrated international One Health Day last November.