Ross students present findings to WHO

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Ross University veterinary students
Krista Keller, Natalie H. Raglan-Beckford, and Melissa Magnotta

Three veterinary students from Ross University in the West Indies recently presented findings on alveolar echinococcosis to the World Health Organization's Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group.

Dr. David J. DeYoung, dean of the Ross veterinary school, praised the students for contributing to research on the global stage.

The foodborne epidemiology reference group held a meeting Nov. 17-21, 2008, in Geneva to discuss progress on the WHO Initiative to Estimate the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases. Among the members of FERG is Dr. Paul R. Torgerson, a professor of epidemiology and public health at the Ross veterinary school.

Dr. Torgerson received a WHO grant for a project to estimate the human burden of alveolar echinococcosis, which results from infection with the larval stage of the tapeworm species Echinococcus multilocularis. Foxes and domestic dogs are among the definitive hosts of E multilocularis, and rodents are generally the intermediate hosts—though humans also can be intermediate hosts.

Dr. Torgerson invited three veterinary students at Ross—Krista Keller (ROS '10), Melissa Magnotta (ROS '11), and Natalie H. Raglan-Beckford (ROS '11)—to review literature on the disease to help estimate an incidence rate for humans.

Dr. Torgerson and Keller, who spent a semester working on the project full time, traveled with Magnotta and Raglan-Beckford, part-time research assistants, to Geneva for the students to present their findings to the FERG.

"There was a considerable 'aha!' moment when we presented at the World Health Organization headquarters," Keller said. "At that point, we realized the impact that the work we did had on public policy. It was a very special feeling to know that your work has a very tangible outcome."

The literature review and subsequent analysis estimated an annual incidence of 43,000 cases of alveolar echinococcosis in humans worldwide. About 40,000 of these cases occur in China—particularly in Tibet, perhaps because the region's isolation has led to a lack of awareness of the disease. About 1,200 cases occur annually in Russia.

Raglan-Beckford told the Ross Spotlight that she and the other students not only presented their findings on alveolar echinococcosis at the FERG meeting, but also attended other sessions and offered their input on a variety of topics.

Dr. Torgerson said the project on alveolar echinococcosis, which will go on to include an analysis of the human burden of the disease, is an example of veterinarians making a contribution to global public health.

"All three students, I believe, got a huge amount out of it," Dr. Torgerson added. "They were all extremely enthusiastic; they gave a very professional presentation in Geneva to global health experts."

Details about the Initiative to Estimate the Global Burden of Foodborne Disease are available at under "Foodborne Disease Burden."