In times of crisis, veterinarians help protect human and animal health.
AVMA members are encouraged to contact their local health department and emergency management office to learn how they can become involved in safeguarding the country from bioterrorist attacks and other threats.
The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists recently recommended "that every state health department enhance epidemiologic surveillance and response by establishing a position for a public health veterinarian."
The American Public Health Association recognized the role of veterinarians in the public health work force and urged "that state and local health departments understand and support the role of veterinarians in public health, that the services of doctors of veterinary medicine be made available to health departments, and that every state health department have a designated position for a public health veterinarian."
The U.S. General Accounting Office noted that "Links between public and animal health agencies are becoming more important ... outbreaks of West Nile virus signal a need for better coordination among public health and animal health agencies."
There is a long way to go to ensure the needed coordination between the veterinary and public health communities to keep the population safe. Appropriate input from the veterinary community to their local governing bodies will assist the states in implementing the recommendations of the GAO, CSTE, and APHA.
There are increasing opportunities for veterinarians to get involved. On Nov. 1, 2002, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that 42 grants were being awarded to community groups supporting volunteer medical response teams making up the new DHHS Medical Reserve Corps. You can find out whether a community group near you has received funding to start a Medical Reserve Corps by visiting www.dhhs.gov/news/press/2002pres/20021101b.html.
Then on Nov. 5, 2002, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced plans to distribute $225 million for state and local preparedness. Almost half that money will go toward updating plans for responding to all hazards, with an emphasis on weapons of mass destruction, including bioterrorism. Other areas receiving funding include state emergency operations centers; mutual aid agreements between counties, cities, and states; and increased communications resources.
The veterinary profession should be extremely pleased to see additional dollars going to states to help strengthen their capacity to respond to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies resulting from terrorism. Recent funding has been used to begin developing comprehensive bioterrorism preparedness plans, upgrade infectious disease surveillance and investigation, expand public health laboratory and communications capacities, and improve connectivity between human hospitals, and city, local, and state health departments to enhance disease reporting.
All the commonly discussed agents of bioterrorism, except smallpox virus, are zoonotic agents. Disease in animals may provide the first indication of bioterrorism. Although the health of the American public is of paramount importance to physicians and veterinarians, these two medical professions have not traditionally coordinated their efforts in preventing zoonoses, which comprise the predominance of known pathogenic organisms.
Veterinarians should seek inclusion in bioterrorism preparedness and response activities, and coordination between the veterinary community and the state departments of agriculture, departments of public health, and the human medical infrastructure. Seek out opportunities to serve on a local level in your community disaster planning process.