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Pets As Disease Watchdogs

Veterinary scientists at Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine have established a national surveillance network to alert and avert// disease threats to humans and animals using medical records of pets.

The network was designed by Professor of Epidemiology. Larry Glickman of the School of Veterinary Medicine, in collaboration with Banfield, The Pet Hospital, a nationwide chain of veterinary hospitals to identify specific geographic areas where a particular pathogen has been identified. The probability of containing the disease is higher when the problem is identified faster.

Authors of the research paper were Glickman; George E. Moore, Nita W. Glickman and Richard J. Caldanaro of Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine; David Aucoin of VCA Antech; and Hugh B. Lewis of Banfield, The Pet Hospital.

Researchers collected data from 80,000 companion animals treated weekly at more than 500 Banfield hospitals in 44 states. Additional data included reports from VCA Antech Diagnostics, a nationwide network of laboratories used by more than 18,000 private veterinary practices.

Medical records were transferred to Purdue, where they were stored and converted for analysis with the help of COMSYS Information Technology Services, a consulting firm located in Houston.

Some of the findings of this study include

. The number of cases of Lyme disease was clearly proportionate to the incidence of fleal and tick infestation in pets. With this information, unusual occurrences of this disease could be anticipated. Public could be alerted to disinfect affected areas for ticks. Other potential diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever l transmitted by ticks and fleas could also be kept in check.

· A marginal increase of about 3.3 percent increase in the number fo positive canine leptospirosis cases. This disease can be transmitted from dogs to humans. If diagnosed early, treated with appropriate antib iotics recovery is 100%. This information can also be used to develop vaccines against this disease.

· Flu-like symptoms in cats and humans in the Washington, D.C., area showed an uncanny correlation citing environmental causes to both. The significance of such results demonstrated the ability of the Purdue researchers to monitor diseases according to geographical area due to bird migration or bioterrorism.

According to Glickman these results demonstrate the utility of an established national surveillance network on the evidence of veterinary medicine and veterinary public health, which would eventually be a national resource. A similar surveillance system could even be used to monitor the avian influenza virus in pet birds or cats.


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