A national surveillance network that uses the medical records of companion animals could help prepare for a wide variety of emerging disease threats to humans and animals, including avian influenza, according to veterinary scientists at Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine.
The National Companion Animal Surveillance Program was originally designed to alert people to potential anthrax or plague outbreaks. New findings on tests of the program are detailed in the current edition of Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, a medical journal that focuses on diseases transmitted to humans by vectors such as mosquitoes or directly from animals.
Larry Glickman, a professor of epidemiology in the School of Veterinary Medicine, designed the National Companion Animal Surveillance Program in collaboration with Banfield, The Pet Hospital, a nationwide chain of veterinary hospitals. Between 2002 and 2004, tests were conducted on more than 10 million pet records to determine how the database could be used to monitor disease outbreaks.
"We discovered we can use analytical techniques to target specific geographic areas where vaccines need to be developed," Glickman said. "This early warning will become critical to stop the spread of avian flu virus and other diseases that might affect humans. The quicker we can identify the problem in the more than 150 million dogs, cats or pet birds that live in approximately 40 percent of all households in the United States, the greater the probability we can contain a disease before it spreads to humans."
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.
Based on the data, researchers found:
"We wanted to show that these animals could be used as sentinels of infectious agents and perhaps predict the occurrence of diseases in humans," Glickman said. "The long-term goal is to partner with other providers of companion animal health care and animal laboratory data to create a comprehensive system that will be a national resource to further the practice of evidence-based veterinary medicine and veterinary public health. We think there is no comparable human-surveillance system in the country."
In ongoing work, the Purdue researchers are investigating ways to monitor cats for avian influenza. In collaboration with Banfield, they have developed an early-warning system for the occurrence of canine influenza that is caused by a virus that appears to have jumped recently from horses to dogs. If a dog comes to a Banfield clinic with a predetermined set of clinical signs, the computer screen flashes in the hospital and information appears that advises the practitioner what samples to collect from the dog for virus identification. A similar real-time surveillance system could be used to identify the avian influenza virus in pet birds or cats, Glickman said.
"The avian flu virus could be the 'black plague' of veterinary medicine, but we can be proactive through early detection and vaccine development," Glickman said. "A reporting system such as this for companion animals will allow us to educate veterinarians and help the public. It also will demonstrate what is possible in human medicine with development of a more centralized and coordinated health-care delivery system."
The research was funded in part by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Sources: Larry Glickman, (765) 494-6301, firstname.lastname@example.org
Related Web site:Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine: http://www.vet.purdue.edu/
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