— Veterinary medicine as a profession was born 250 years ago with the founding of the first school of veterinary medicine in Lyon, France.
The World Veterinary Association, along with other leading veterinary organizations, have designated 2011 as the “Year of the Veterinarian”, and the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences is taking part in the effort to help promote the global spread of knowledge in veterinary medicine.
“The Year of the Veterinarian is recognizing the first veterinary school in Lyon, France, but it is also about encouraging the advancement of the education of veterinarians and sharing knowledge so that we can raise the bar for veterinary medicine throughout the world,” said Dr. Leon Russell, professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
During the late 18th century, Europe was facing a cattle plague that eventually led to the death of approximately 200 million cattle because of a disease referred to as Rinderpest. This began to significantly affect the food supply, and the Pope ordered a decree for a method to be developed to eliminate the spread of the disease.
King Louis the XV of France assembled a team in 1761, led by noted horseman Claude Bourgelat, in order to form a veterinary school in Lyon. The new school successfully stopped the spread of Rinderpest which eventually spurred the development of another veterinary school three years later in Alfort, France, whose original building still stands intact today.
Today, veterinarians play vital roles all over the world concerning people and animals alike.
“Almost three-fourths of diseases that have emerged within the last 20 years are zoonoses, or diseases transmitted between animals and humans,” explained Russell, whose teachings focus mainly on topics in public health and epidemiology.
Many diseases, such as HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), are believed to have originated in wild animals and then transmitted to humans.
“A potential source of new diseases may arise due to the tremendous amount of international trading of animals, illegal trading in many cases, that usually involve wild animals,” said Russell.
Russell noted an example of a small breed of rats that were being shipped to a company in Texas via West Africa. While in Texas, the rats were housed with prairie dogs, then both animals were shipped to 17 different states to be sold as pets. Veterinarians later discovered that the animals carried a disease known as monkeypox that was being contracted by people in the United States.
“Veterinarians work hard to prevent zoonoses and are called on to work closely with physicians to help in identifying cases like these,” said Russell.
For example, In the state of Texas, when any animal bites a person there are certain public health laws that must be followed. If the animal that is believed to have inflicted the wound is captured and is a dog or a cat it must be quarantined for 10 days, and a veterinarian must then OK that the animal is free of rabies before it can be released.
Rabies is a classic example of a global zoonotic disease, which is responsible for the death of about one person every 10 minutes somewhere in the world. The human rabies is mostly still seen in Africa or Southeast Asia as a result of dog bites.
“Dogs are the main carrier of rabies throughout the world, although we are very fortunate in the United States to have eradicated the dog strain of rabies virus in dogs through our rabies vaccination program,” said Russell.
Russell explained that United States still has cases of rabies in wildlife however. The Eastern United States usually sees the virus in raccoons, the Southwestern states see it in foxes, and everywhere in the country will see it in the bat populations.
“In Texas we just have to worry about seeing the virus in skunks and bats, but the important thing for people to realize is that at least three-fourths of the human cases of rabies in the United States have been traced back to bat origin,” stated Russell.
Veterinarians also have public health oversight in many food industries such as beef, pork, and poultry. They also promote food security by supervising animal production hygiene.
“Veterinarians are hired by the United States military to monitor the food quality and safety that the troops consume and also provide a safe food supply for our U.S. government personnel in other countries, water included,” said Russell.
Russell noted that the United States Air Force especially is known to use veterinary assistance for their environmental safety officers.
Veterinarians are also vital in protecting the environment and the biodiversity of our planet through research efforts made in the fields of conservation and genetics.
Russell, who has served in the past as president of the World Veterinary Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, noted that we are very fortunate in the United States to hold the gold standard in veterinary medicine.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at http://tamunews.tamu.edu.