Detecting Animal Diseases that Could Affect Humans

An upcoming Ohio conference is aimed at helping public health officials earlier detect and recognize emerging diseases in animal populations that could affect humans. The June 16 meeting, "Public Health Surveillance Using a One-Medicine Approach," is part of a new program in Ohio to help researchers catch natural and intentional animal disease outbreaks. They will use avenues such as animal hospital admissions and laboratory test orders, and their methods could eventually be applied on a national basis.

The conference, which will be held in The Ohio State University (OSU) Veterinary Teaching Hospital Auditorium, is designed for veterinarians, human physicians, public health professionals, and extension representatives (veterinarians currently make up the highest percentage of registrants at 75%). Presenters include veterinarians from the Centers for Disease Control and the USDA (from wildlife services and animal surveillance), a human disease surveillance expert from the University of Pittsburgh, and local health officials.

Bill Saville, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, explained that he received a contract from the state's Department of Health to begin developing the animal surveillance program.

"The system we have in place targets certain diseases, but we need to be able to have an early detection system for either a natural or an intentional start of an animal disease outbreak," said Saville. "Nobody has the answers on how to diagnose and detect these diseases as early as possible, but we're looking at different avenues, and it looks like the animal data may be useful."

One of Saville's students has been examining animal disease data of all species from three different Ohio laboratories. "We're using diagnostic test orders," he explained. "There is a lag time between ordering the test and getting the result, so we're looking at the orders to detect clustering of events that are higher than usual, and it's looking like we can do that." For example, if a Salmonella situation is suspected, they might see clustering of orders for that specific test at different laboratories, thus alerting them of a possible Salmonella outbreak even before results from the tests have been returned. Escherichia coli is another example of a zoonotic disease (one that affects animals and humans) that could be caught in animals using this program.

"We've done this retrospectively so far, and we've looked at three different data sets, and they all tell us very similar things," said Saville. "Now we're going on a real-time basis starting in about a month."

Also, Saville and colleagues will be looking at reasons behind hospital visits at OSU and potentially from other animal hospitals in the future, narrowing the clinical signs down to eight categories of disease such as respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurologic illnesses. Once an animal disease detection program is well established, researchers can add human surveillance data and see if there is a relationship between human and animal diseases.
The upcoming meeting will give those involved a chance to exchange ideas on how best to implement such a program. "Eventually, I hope it ends up as a national program," said Saville. "We're trying it out first on a small scale."

Veterinarians, human physicians, public health professionals, and extension representatives can learn more about the meeting and sign up at As of May 24, there were only 42 seats remaining of the 200 available.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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