U veterinary students learn to detect bioterrorism

Joanna Dornfeld

It might not be a Tomahawk missile. But an anthrax-poisoned chicken can be a deadly weapon.

That’s why veterinary students need to learn how they can wage war on bioterrorism, University professors and health officials said Wednesday in a teach-in about veterinarians’ role in protecting against bioterrorism.

“You will be on the front lines of protecting against bioterrorism,” said Will Hueston, Center for Animal Health and Food Safety director, to the assembled students and health officials.

The early detection of bioterrorist agents in animals can prevent the spread to humans. Many biological agents used in bioterrorism affect both animals and humans.

“In many cases animals are the sentinel – the first sign,” said Scott Wells, veterinary public health assistant professor, to the packed auditorium.

The speakers said early recognition of biological terrorism agents in animals is important. A prompt response involving state and federal agencies can prevent the greater spread of the disease. And veterinarians must be prepared to accurately communicate any threat to the
public, they said.

“You, quite often, are going to be the most knowledgeable … in the area you live,” Wells said to the audience.

Minnesota could be a target for bioterrorism and agroterrorism because it has large dairy, swine and poultry industries, Wells said. But because Minnesota has a secure border with Canada and is in the middle of the nation, the threat is less than in other states with large agricultural economies.

Bioterrorism uses biological agents to intentionally produce disease or intoxication in susceptible populations. Agroterrorism, on the other hand, targets animals or crops with biologic weapons to disrupt economies.

Bioterrorist and agroterrorist threats are real, said Abel Ponce de Leon, animal science professor and department head.

“What we need to be aware of is that there is no zero-risk system,” he said. “What is important is how we respond to that.

“I am asking you now if you have an opportunity to interact with (local farmers), stress the importance of biosecurity.”

University, state and federal officials were on hand to answer questions following the presentation.

The Center for Animal Health and Food Safety will collaborate with the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy for future programs about bioterrorism.

A program on the Minneapolis campus is tentatively scheduled for medical, dental and nursing students. It will focus on the threat of bioterrorism for humans.

“A response to bioterrorism is a team effort,” said Jeff Klausner, College of Veterinary Medicine dean. “The veterinarian is an important part of that team.”

 

Joanna Dornfeld covers the St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected]