AVMA Answers: Zoonoses resources for the companion animal practitioner

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You have expressed some concern about companion animal practitioners' awareness of zoonotic diseases. Why are you concerned?

Dr. Henry E. ChildersDr. Henry E. Childers, AVMA president, responds:

New and emerging zoonotic diseases are increasing in prevalence. Obviously, veterinary medicine is the profession concerned with the identification and management of zoonotic diseases. We're also the profession responsible for educating the public about zoonotic pathogens.

Approximately 70 percent of our veterinarians are in companion animal practice and devote their continuing education to small animal medicine. Although veterinarians are educated to diagnose and treat conditions in all species of animals, after years of companion animal practice, many of these practitioners don't feel confident discussing some zoonotic diseases with the public. The veterinary profession is not truly aware of just how much companion animal practitioners know about these threats to human and animal health.

Additionally, many public health officials are unaware that veterinarians can and should serve as a primary resource. My concern is that there are not enough food animal and public health veterinarians to adequately update the public concerning zoonoses, and companion animal practitioners are the segment of the profession that is most likely to be in contact with the public.

Why should veterinarians stay current on the latest information on zoonoses?

We are the first line of defense. We have the responsibility of keeping the public informed concerning zoonotic diseases. Companion animal veterinarians comprise 70 percent of the veterinary workforce and are in constant contact with the public. Also, veterinarians are members of the public health community. Veterinarians serve as the intermediate contact between clients, the public, and public health officials. Biosecurity and preparedness for zoonotic disease outbreaks, whether naturally occurring or intentional, are enhanced if veterinarians are involved in the planning processes. Veterinarians would also be credible sources to clear up misinformation on many issues concerning public health medicine, such as food safety and bioterrorism.

What resources would you recommend to AVMA members?

Journal articles and textbooks—the AVMA Council on Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine and the Journal of the AVMA have partnered for the past 20 years to publish articles about the most prevalent and relevant zoonotic diseases. To date, two monographs of the articles published in the JAVMA between 1986 and 1995 have been published all of which are posted on the AVMA's Web site at www.avma.org.

The council is again working with the JAVMA editors to publish a totally new series of articles on zoonoses that have current and potential public health concerns. To date, 18 articles have been published on a variety of topics, many of which are relevant to companion animal practice. These reports are available in the print and online versions of the JAVMA and will be complied once the full series has been published.

Other sources include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the World Health Organization's Zoonosis and Veterinary Public Health Web site, and textbooks, several of which have been reviewed in the JAVMA book review feature. Another resource private practitioners can take advantage of is the Agriculture Department's impending accreditation program. Veterinarians will be required to have a strong understanding of zoonotic diseases to be accredited by the USDA.

Additionally, Dr. James Roth, director of the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University, is producing "Zoonotic Diseases Manual for Companion Animal Practitioners." I expect this to be a valuable resource that will include diagnostic-quality, color images.