The Veterinarian’s Role in Public Health
Scientists have noticed the similarity between diseases in animals and humans since the 1800's. It was during this time that Rudolph Virchow, a German physician, coined the term zoonosis and famously said, "Between animal and human medicine there are no dividing lines – nor should there be. The object is different but the experience obtained constitutes the basis of all medicine."
Dr. Jim Kazmierczak, Wisconsin State Public Health Veterinarian and member of the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association (WVMA), has seen the veterinarian's role in public health grow tremendously since he was a veterinary medical student during the 1970s.
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"When I was in school, veterinary public health training was pretty much limited to meat inspection and rabies control," says Dr. Kazmierczak. "The idea of public health careers was never mentioned."
Current veterinary students receive a broad range of introduction to this area of veterinary medicine with training in public health, zoonoses, epidemiology and regulatory medicine.
"As a result, I think veterinary clinicians today are more self-confident when addressing zoonotic issues and have more resources to assist them," says Dr. Kazmierczak.
When discussing the role that veterinarians have played in the control of zoonoses, Dr. Kazmierczak cited several examples of regional disease eradication and control. The biggest examples of these in the U.S. include rabies, animal tuberculosis and brucellosis.
"The reduction of human cases of rabies in the U.S. is a great example of zoonotic disease control," says Dr. Kazmierczak. "Since the 1940's, human rabies cases have declined from about 50 annually to fewer than three per year during the past decade, primarily due to animal vaccinations by veterinarians."
More traditionally, veterinary clinicians and regulators continue to play a crucial role in ensuring a safe, stable and healthy food supply with public health benefits.
The ties between human and animal health will be strengthened through the One Health concept, which is dedicated to improving the life of humans, domesticated animals and wildlife. Making this concept a reality, will require more routine exchanges between veterinarians, public health practitioners, and physicians, both in academia and in clinical practice, in order to tap into expertise that exists within both professions.
"With their strong foundations in pathology, parasitology, clinical science and their concept of "herd health", veterinarians are well-positioned to make more positive contributions to public health," says Dr. Kazmierczak.