Public health veterinarians–why we have them

November 13, 2009 at 8:51 pm Leave a comment

A cable news host, who shall remain nameless here since I don’t believe in giving people unwarranted publicity, claimed on his radio show on Wednesday that the health care bill includes pet insurance for dogs. Now, much as some of us might like that, it’s simply not true, and fortunately Politifact was there to debunk it. According to Politifact, there is “no public option for Rex, no death panels for Fido.”

What the bill does include, apparently, is the creation of a Public Health Workforce Corps to provide scholarships and education loan repayment assistance for public health professionals, including veterinarians.

So why do we have public health veterinarians? I’m so glad you asked. I’ve been working on a book about animal-related careers and, of course, one of them is public health veterinarian. Public health veterinarians work as epidemiologists in city, county, state and federal agencies, investigating animal and human disease outbreaks. They help protect human health as it relates to zoonoses, diseases that can be transmitted between animals and people through direct contact or consumption of animal products–diseases like swine flu, avian flu, mad cow disease and West Nile virus. They’re also involved in food and water safety and helping communities–people and animals–recover after natural disasters. There’s a shortage of public health veterinarians, which is one of the reasons they’re included in the legislation.

One of the things that I hope will make my book different and interesting is that I’ve woven in profiles of people in the various fields. For this one, I spoke to Katherine Feldman, public health vet for the state of Maryland. She spends her days doing everything from writing policy on rabies prevention and control to meeting with summer-camp directors to discuss ways they can help prevent campers from developing Lyme disease or being exposed to rabies through interactions with wildlife.

My role as state public health veterinarian is to look after the health of Maryland citizens wherever animals might be involved in disease risks or transmission. Issues that are common for me to deal with are things like exposure or potential exposure to rabies or other zoonotic disease issues.

So if you hear this rumor going around, set the record straight.…

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