Monday, October 13, 2008

Not All Vets Treat Pets -- For Some It’s About Homeland Security

(ARA) - Anthrax. Biological attacks. Exotic diseases. These and many other issues are making headlines as the world we live in seems to get smaller and smaller. Yet there is a dedicated group of scientists who are confronting these, and many other, threats each and every day.

Who are they? Veterinary pathologists. These specialists work to understand various diseases and biological compounds wherever our military are deployed around the world. They also are part of the Homeland Security Council and other government agencies, working closely with government officials to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to protect the military and citizens in the event of a biological threat.

Why Veterinary Pathologists are Important to Homeland Security
Simply put, veterinary pathologists are critical on the frontlines of public health risks like agroterrorism or bioterrorism. The United States military certainly believes veterinary pathology is important. It maintains a cadre of veterinary pathologists in uniform who are working to limit the risk of infectious diseases to soldiers deployed overseas.

From studying the basic mechanisms of exotic fevers, to the development of vaccines, disease control, risk management and rapid detection of biologic and chemical agents, Army veterinary pathologists are crucial members of the effort to protect our soldiers. Lt Col Dana Scott, director of the division of pathology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and a diplomat in the American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP), has studied Ebola virus in the famed “Hot Zone” and served for two years as special liaison for biologic warfare to the Pentagon.

Veterinary pathologists are also working in federal and state diagnostic laboratories as well as with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and will be the first to know about foreign animal diseases in our country that could devastate our agriculture industry. One has only to read accounts from the past few years about Mad Cow Disease in Europe and North America with its impact on both human health and the beef industry to understand its importance.

The outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Great Britain a few years back is a case in point. Although there is little risk of human catching foot and mouth disease, the economic impact to Great Britain was enormous. We were lucky the disease did not spread to the United States. The USDA spends considerable effort and money keeping these foreign diseases out of our country, some of which are less than 90 miles from our border. Veterinary pathologists familiar with these diseases are busy working to improve detection and containment of this threat.

At Home and Abroad, These Vets Help Keep Us Safe, Too
Veterinary pathologists research different diseases because there can be an outbreak at any time during a deployment, but they also conduct research because many diseases have the potential to be used as intentional weapons.

In 1991, a natural botulism outbreak occurred across Egypt. Veterinary pathologists in the military had already helped develop a vaccine and treatment for botulism to protect soldiers in the event of a natural or intentional attack. Thanks to their proactive motion, they used those drugs to save civilian and military lives in Egypt.

When Operation Iraqi Freedom started, veterinary pathologists were sent with an army laboratory to Iraq in case of a biological weapon attack. When they began delving into research, they ended up working on ways to treat a parasitic disease spread by the bite of infected sand flies which turned out to be a significant problem for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Veterinary pathologists also provide many other benefits for the military, from researching new bandages that soldiers can use on the battlefield to stop bleeding more effectively after a blast injury, to studying and developing new body armor, to caring for working military dogs when they’re sick or injured.

So the next time you’re thanking the military for protecting our country, give a little nod to the veterinary pathologists behind the scenes, at home and abroad, that help protect them and others around the globe from dangerous microorganisms. For more information on the profession and other areas of public health served by veterinary pathologists, go to

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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