UI study finds veterinarians at higher risk for disease from animals - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

UI study finds veterinarians at higher risk for disease from animals

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by Bryan Goettel

IOWA CITY (KWWL) - A lot of information has come out about the H1N1 flu in the past few weeks.

The name has changed from swine flu after the virus was originally thought to be similar to those found in pigs.

But lab studies have shown the virus is made up of a combination of pig, avian and human genes.

It's believed that the majority of human diseases originate in animals.

Now a new University of Iowa study has found a group to be at increased risk for these zoonotic pathogens.

They are the ones that work closest with animals. So it only makes sense that veterinarians can serve as the so called "bridging population" from animals to humans. But this new U of I study finds vets may be at greater risk for infection than previously thought.

A veterinarian for almost thirty years, Dr. William Gay stresses common sense in his office when working with pets.

"Our staff wear masks and gloves and gowns to protect themselves from just everyday bacteria," Dr. William Gay said.

Gay also treats cattle at his home. And it's large animal vets that face greater risks of catching a disease.

"Most swine veterinarians that I know of, we are acutely aware of influenza," swine veterinarian Dr. Mike Male said.

That is part of why UI doctoral student Whitney Baker was surprised to find in her research that despite receiving training, many vets don't use the proper equipment.

"We found that they often lack both the training and the tools necessary to protect themselves," Baker said. 

Baker has been working on this study for two years. While she says the results aren't cause for alarm, she hopes this will lead to policy measures that will better protect veterinarians.

"Veterinarians are sort of like the canary in a coal mine for emerging zoonotic diseases," Baker said. "They would be at first risk for a pathogen that were to originate in animals and gain potential to infect humans and so they need to be protected for."

"It reminds us that we need to be aware of some of these things, take care, take precautions and remain aware," Dr. Male said.

Dr. Male says even with all the training it's hard to shake habits. And on a hot summer day, he says it's frankly hard to make yourself wear a mask.

Online Reporter: Bryan Goettel

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