Purdue project could help pets serve as disease watchdogs

uenza in cats and people. The finding illustrates the importance of the ability of Purdue researchers to track diseases by geographic area and to detect statistical clusters of events in companion animals that could signal the introduction of new viruses into the United States, such as avian influenza virus due to bird migration or bioterrorism.

"We wanted to show that these animals could be used as sentinels of infectious agents and perhaps predict the occurrence of diseases in humans," Glickman said. "The long-term goal is to partner with other providers of companion animal health care and animal laboratory data to create a comprehensive system that will be a national resource to further the practice of evidence-based veterinary medicine and veterinary public health. We think there is no comparable human-surveillance system in the country."

In ongoing work, the Purdue researchers are investigating ways to monitor cats for avian influenza. In collaboration with Banfield, they have developed an early-warning system for the occurrence of canine influenza that is caused by a virus that appears to have jumped recently from horses to dogs. If a dog comes to a Banfield clinic with a predetermined set of clinical signs, the computer screen flashes in the hospital and information appears that advises the practitioner what samples to collect from the dog for virus identification. A similar real-time surveillance system could be used to identify the avian influenza virus in pet birds or cats, Glickman said.

"The avian flu virus could be the 'black plague' of veterinary medicine, but we can be proactive through early detection and vaccine development," Glickman said. "A reporting system such as this for companion animals will allow us to educate veterinarians and help the public. It also will demonstrate what is possible in human medicine with development of a more centralized and coordinated health-care delivery system."


Contact: Maggie Morris
Purdue University

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