Cowboy and Canines – The good old days?

Written by Dr. Nicholas Pappas. Posted in Featured, Pets

Published on November 26, 2014 with No Comments

“There is much to be proud of in veterinary and human medicine for what we have accomplished.”

I’ve been in veterinary medicine since the early 1970s.  I am incredulous the changes I have personally witnessed in the span of one career.

The evolution of many veterinary and human maladies has been fascinating.  Forty years ago canine distemper, feline distemper (panleukopenia), hog cholera, hog pseudorabies and Newcastle Disease in poultry were seen almost daily or at least not uncommonly.  In humans two generations ago polio, tuberculosis and smallpox were seen with almost certain frequency.

Sadly, although all the diseases listed above are rarely seen or virtually eliminated (at least from the United States), many new diseases have supplanted the others.  In veterinary and human medicine Lyme disease, BSE, chronic wasting disease and avian influenza (leading to SARS in people) and Ebola are 21st century scourges that we must confront.

How did we transition from what we were treating 40 years ago to what we are seeing today?  There has been a multifaceted approach to treating or eliminating these diseases.  In 1946, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) started operation in Atlanta.  They are to be lauded for their accomplishments over the decades but, as we’ve seen with the Ebola crisis, they have become too political, but that’s the source for another article.

The CDC has a list of “reportable” diseases.  Any disease on this list, such as foot and mouth disease, must be reported to the CDC immediately or risk losing your license.  They have “Go Teams” very similar to what the NTSB has at the first hint of an outbreak.  The nexus of their success has been the adoption of a new philosophical approach to disease control.  The care and well-being of our population as a whole, human health of the country and veterinary controls are inextricably intertwined.

Vaccination for any disease is the easiest modality to understand.  But, vaccination perpetuates the virus or bacteria in the environment.  One of the greatest medical accomplishments in history went virtually unnoticed:  the eradication of smallpox.  Those of us over 60 have scars on our left arm from a smallpox vaccination.  It was a draconian decision to make and it worked.  There hasn’t been a case diagnosed in over 30 years anywhere on Earth.

Because veterinarians work in concert with physicians, we vaccinate dogs, cats and even animals in the wild for rabies (raccoons with vaccine-spiked food).  On average, only five or less people die of rabies in the U.S. per year.  In India, 80,000-100,000 people a year die of rabies.   Extreme quarantine procedures are adhered to in some places such as the U.K., Hawaii and Australia where rabies does not exist.

One form of management is herd destruction and draconian quarantine measures are taken for diseases such as foot and mouth disease seen in the U.K. as recently as 2001.  It was found that cars had live virus on their tires after driving 200 kilometers away.  This is one of the most contagious viruses on Earth.

What we fear with all veterinary diseases, human diseases and zoonotic diseases (those transmitted from animals to man) is the morphing of any disease or mode of transmission.  This is especially worrisome with Ebola, i.e., mutating to an airborne transmission.

There is much to be proud of in veterinary and human medicine for what we have accomplished. Moreover, I believe the new diseases listed here will be studied genetically with the aid of technology; this will preclude generations from having to deal with them—solutions with require only years.  This is my fervent desire and belief.

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About Dr. Nicholas Pappas


Dr. Nicholas Pappas is a former Chairman of the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. He has been involved in veterinary medicine for 40 years and has practiced for more than 30 years. You can reach Dr. Pappas at katdrpappas@gmail.com.

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