Purdue project could help pets serve as disease watchdogs.

Position:EH Update - Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine

A national surveillance network that uses the medical records of companion animals could help prepare for a wide variety of emerging-disease threats to humans and animals, including avian influenza, according to veterinary scientists at Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine.

The National Companion Animal Surveillance Program was originally designed to alert people to potential anthrax or plague outbreaks. New findings on tests of the program are detailed in the current edition of Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases.

"We discovered we can use analytical techniques to target specific geographic areas where vaccines need to be developed," said author Larry Glickman, professor of epidemiology. "This early warning will become critical to stopping the spread of avian flu virus and other diseases that might affect humans. The quicker we can identify the problem in the more than 150 million dogs, cats, or pet birds that live in approximately 40 percent of all households in the United States, the greater the probability we can contain a disease before it spreads to humans."

Glickman's co-authors were George E. Moore, Nita W. Glickman, and Richard J. Caldanaro of Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine; David Aucoin of VCA Antech (a nationwide network of laboratories used by more than 18,000 private veterinary practices); and Hugh B. Lewis of Banfield, The Pet Hospital (a nationwide chain of veterinary hospitals).

Between 2002 and 2004, tests were conducted on more than 10 million pet records to determine how the database could be used to monitor disease outbreaks.

The research found patterns of interest in the following three areas:

* The data showed a clear pattern of association between flea and tick infestation in pets and the incidence of Lyme disease in humans, with a two-month lag and peak rates occurring during warmer months. This information allows veterinarians to anticipate unusual occurrences of diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans and design treatment methods. Public health officials also could be alerted so that they could provide timely information to the public and spray affected areas for ticks. In addition, specimens could be used for profiling other diseases that are potentially transmitted to humans by fleas and ticks, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

* The data showed a 3.3 percent increase in the number of positive tests from 2002-2004 for a disease called canine leptospirosis. Leptospirosis can be...

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