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Veterinary medicine as a profession was born 250 years ago with
the founding of the first school of veterinary medicine in Lyon,
France. The World Veterinary Association, along with other leading
veterinary organizations, have designated 2011 as the "Year of the
Veterinarian", and the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine
& Biomedical Sciences is taking part in the effort to help
promote the global spread of knowledge in veterinary medicine.
"The Year of the Veterinarian is recognizing the first
veterinary school in Lyon, France, but it is also about encouraging
the advancement of the education of veterinarians and sharing
knowledge so that we can raise the bar for veterinary medicine
throughout the world," said Dr. Leon Russell, professor at the
Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
During the late 18th century, Europe was facing a
cattle plague that eventually led to the death of approximately 200
million cattle because of a disease referred to as
Rinderpest. This began to significantly affect the food
supply, and the Pope ordered a decree for a method to be developed
to eliminate the spread of the disease. King Louis the XV of France
assembled a team in 1761, led by noted horseman Claude Bourgelat,
in order to form a veterinary school in Lyon. The new school
successfully stopped the spread of Rinderpest which eventually
spurred the development of another veterinary school three years
later in Alfort, France, whose original building still stands
Today, veterinarians play vital roles all over the world
concerning people and animals alike.
"Almost three-fourths of diseases that have emerged within the
last 20 years are zoonoses, or diseases transmitted between animals
and humans," explained Russell, whose teachings focus mainly on
topics in public health and epidemiology.
Many diseases, such as HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and
SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), are believed to have
originated in wild animals and then transmitted to humans.
"A potential source of new diseases may arise due to the
tremendous amount of international trading of animals, illegal
trading in many cases, that usually involve wild animals," said
Russell noted an example of a small breed of rats that were
being shipped to a company in Texas via West Africa. While in
Texas, the rats were housed with prairie dogs, then both animals
were shipped to 17 different states to be sold as pets.
Veterinarians later discovered that the animals carried a disease
known as monkeypox that was being contracted by people in the
"Veterinarians work hard to prevent zoonoses and are called on
to work closely with physicians to help in identifying cases like
these," said Russell.
For example , In the state of Texas, when any animal bites a
person there are certain public health laws that must be followed.
If the animal that is believed to have inflicted the wound is
captured and is a dog or a cat it must be quarantined for ten days,
and a veterinarian must then okay that the animal is free of rabies
before it can be released.
Rabies is a classic example of a global zoonotic disease, which
is responsible for the death of about one person every ten minutes
somewhere in the world. The human rabies is mostly still seen in
Africa or Southeast Asia as a result of dog bites.
"Dogs are the main carrier of rabies throughout the world,
although we are very fortunate in the United States to have
eradicated the dog strain of rabies virus in dogs through our
rabies vaccination program," said Russell.
Russell explained that United States still has cases of rabies
in wildlife however. The Eastern United States usually sees the
virus in raccoons, the Southwestern states see it in foxes, and
everywhere in the country will see it in the bat populations.
"In Texas we just have to worry about seeing the virus in skunks
and bats, but the important thing for people to realize is that at
least three-fourths of the human cases of rabies in the United
States have been traced back to bat origin," stated Russell.
"Sometimes these diseases such as rabies can disguise themselves as
something else and are not detected until it is too late, but we do
have very effective vaccines to prevent contraction of the disease
in high risk people. Also, post-exposure treatment is important in
preventing the disease if one knows they have been exposed to a
rabid animal and if they act quickly enough."
Veterinarians also have public health oversight in many food
industries such as beef, pork, and poultry. They also promote food
security by supervising animal production hygiene.
"Veterinarians are hired by the United States military to
monitor the food quality and safety that the troops consume and
also provide a safe food supply for our U.S. government
personnel in other countries, water included," said Russell.
Russell noted that the United States Air Force especially is
known to use veterinary assistance for their environmental safety
Veterinarians are also vital in protecting the environment and
the biodiversity of our planet through research efforts made in the
fields of conservation and genetics.
Many of the faculty at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary
Medicine & Biomedical Sciences have international reputations
for their expertise in reproductive biology, cancer, neurology,
biodefense, infectious diseases, equine and feline medicine, and
cardiology to name a few. For more information about veterinary
medicine, you can check the Texas A&M College of Veterinary
Medicine website for links to the World Veterinary Association Vet
2011 website, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the
Texas Veterinary Medical Association.
Russell, who has served in the past as president of the World
Veterinary Association, the American Veterinary Medical
Association, and the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, noted
that we are very fortunate in the United States to hold the gold
standard in veterinary medicine.
The Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine &
Biomedical Sciences is one of only 28 veterinary schools in the
United States, the only one in the state of Texas, and is
consistently ranked in the top five. The college has planned three
lectures to take place this year that focus on the past, present,
and future of veterinary medicine. Information on these
lectures will be on the college website at www.vetmed.tamu.edu.
So in celebration of the Year of the Veterinarian, please
remember to take care of the health of your pets, and thank your
veterinarian for all they do to keep pets, people, and our
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