Leading Off: Pets, people, and pathogens: Emerging diseases


Leading Off: Pets, people, and pathogens: Emerging diseases

Mar 01, 2010

Providence, R.I., might seem like an odd place for a meeting of veterinarians and physicians. But ever since Roger Williams founded this tiny New England state, Rhode Island has prided itself on tolerance and inclusion. So there was certainly historic tradition behind a recent zoonotic disease conference for veterinarians and physicians.

November 11, 2009, marked the state's second collaborative continuing education forum in this series, which was co-hosted by the Companion Animal Parasite Council and Coastal Medical, Rhode Island's largest primary care physician group. An audience of more than 130 veterinarians and 125 physicians listened to a panel of experts representing veterinary and medical opinions on topics ranging from bartonellosis (page 126) to swine flu.

Dr. Dwight Bowman, a veterinary parasitologist, and Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt, an infectious disease specialist, held up the veterinary end. Dr. Richard Glew, a medical infectious disease specialist, spoke about bacterial resistance (visit http://dvm360.com/glew), and Dr. Steven Opal, chief of infectious disease at Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket, R.I., discussed the impact of swine flu (see the Related Link "Understanding viral zoonoses: H1N1 influenza" below).

The topics were fascinating and relevant to clinical practice, but one of the more intriguing features of the talk came from the audience questions. This portion provided a real world opportunity for attendees to see how medical doctors and veterinarians approached patients differently, and also to show the ways they could learn from one another. This was particularly evident when a physician asked Dr. Breitschwerdt what kind of advice he should give his immunocompromised patients about risk factors associated with pet ownership. I think the veterinarians in the audience were reassured by Dr. Breitschwerdt's emphasis that veterinary care and preventive parasite control were the best ways to ensure healthy, safe pets.

Andy Miller, MD, one of the returning attendees from the first meeting in 2007, told me that these forums had opened his eyes to how intertwined the medical and veterinary professions are. "It was fascinating to learn new ways to approach diseases and new ways of assessing risk factors in patient populations," he said. "I'd never thought much about pet ownership in the context of whether it impacted my patients or not, but now I ask patients if they have pets, if they go to a vet, and if they use parasite control."

Veterinary practice management consultant Jill Ramsden said that she will use information from the conference to make recommendations about parasite prevention to the practices she manages. "What I was shocked to learn was that parasite zoonoses are not just a Third World issue," she said. "I found the incidence rates of disease here in the U.S. alarming."

This kind of collaborative work will have a substantial positive impact on human and animal health. Working together to maximize experiences and resources will not only protect and save human and animal lives, but also promote a paradigm shift that should recognize and reinforce the human-animal bond. It has often been said that veterinarians are the "other" family physicians. Building bridges between the two fields will help to strengthen primary care for both animals and humans.

Dr. Cathy Lund owns City Kitty Veterinary Care for Cats in Providence, R.I., and is the former president of the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association.