Since starting veterinary school, I have had the opportunity to learn about veterinary practices and food safety and public health in Italy; I have also had the opportunity to visit the foreign animal disease laboratory at Plum Island. As part of the 4th year veterinary curriculum, students are allotted a few blocks out of the year for “externships”. With this time, myself and another 4thyear student, Taylor Pursell, decided to visit the Animal Research Council’s Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute (ARC-OVI) and Transboundary Animal Disease Laboratory in Onderstepoort, South Africa. Since the beginning of my veterinary career, I have had an interest in international work and foreign animal diseases.
When we arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa we were greeted by 2 very friendly and helpful employees of the ARC-OVI, Prince who works for the transportation department and Ernest who does research in the rabies department. We stayed at a guesthouse at the OVI for the next 2 weeks.
Our first week was spent in the Tuberculosis (TB) Laboratory. The goal of the TB lab is diagnosing TB in bovine species and wildlife in South Africa and some of the surrounding countries. Dr. Tiny Hlokwe and her team taught us how to process tissues samples from animals for culture, differentiate Mycobacterium spp via PCR and gel electrophoresis and how to perform serologic diagnosis via the gamma-interferon test. We had to opportunity to process samples from Kudu, Impala, and White rhino! Week one was definitely a success.
We had the weekend off, so Taylor and I went to a nearby game reserve, Dinokeng. We had a great time seeing all the different species of animals; we met a bunch of very nice people and got to indulge in local South African cuisine. We even had the opportunity to take a microlight flight and see the reserve and all the animals from above!
For our second week at the ARC-OVI, we made our way across the street to the Transboundary Animal Diseases Laboratory aka TAD. On our first day, we met with Dr. Livio Heath, the program manager. We had a quick tour of the grounds and then went upstairs to get our gear for containment because the labs are BSL 3 meaning we have to change to enter the lab and then shower out. After making our way through the air locked doors, we were introduced to the diagnostic team for Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and African Swine Fever (ASF). Over the week they taught us how to perform ELISA testing, PCR, virus isolation and cell culture. We learned a lot and even got to perform some diagnostic own tests on our own!
I had a great two weeks at the ARC. Not only did I improve my laboratory skills and gain more knowledge about tests that are commonly performed for various diseases, I learned more about the importance of disease control programs and experienced firsthand the urgency and challenges that occur when trying to manage a disease outbreak of a transboundary animal disease.