Remember the mad-cow disease, the avian flu that hit Asia sometime back and perhaps SARS? The common denominator of these diseases is that all of them originated from animals. The mad-cow disease obviously got its name because they exhibited first from cows, the avian flu from birds and SARS from civet cats, an animal endemic to China. And where and when there are animals involved, veterinary doctors or Veterinarians or Vets are sure to be involved.

From city living experience, we know Vets to be those guys treating our pets when they get sick. Kids usually call them the animal doctors. Even in children’s stories, veterinary doctors are represented by the famous Dr. Doolittle, who treats animals because he can talk to them.
Aside from treatment of sick pets, professionally, little is known about the practice of veterinary medicine. What a lot of people may not know is that the meats being sold in the markets or groceries have passed through a Vet’s inspection. Meaning Vets make sure that the food we eat as far as animal products are concerned are disease free. Notice that some parts of the meat have a blue coloration to it, that is because it is the ink of the vet’s stamp of certification that the meat is guaranteed fit for human consumption.

Large commercial farms dealing in livestock cannot do without a Vet. The Resident Vet would be the one to look after the health of each livestock. Each livestock is checked upon depending on the schedule of check-ups the company adheres to. Vets would be on the lookout for animals exhibiting symptoms of any kind. Once a symptom is observed, these animals are immediately put under quarantine for more testing and confirmation. Those commercial farms that have so many livestock invest in their Resident Vet and sponsor their Vet’s post-graduate courses such as Epidemiology. Since he will be exposed to thousands of animals on a day-to-day basis, the threat of outbreak within the farm needs to be contained immediately so as not to contaminate the whole herd. Not only that, the company will suffer tremendous amounts of money should the Vet fail to contain the outbreak. Mad cow disease and SARS are rare occurrences but in a livestock farm, it is also the Vet’s job to recommend practices that will ensure safety of the animals and those people working with the animals. There are viruses that may not affect the animal itself but when farm cleanliness policies are not strictly followed down the letter, the pathogens may be passed on to humans and a different effect might happen. Sometimes, a simple wearing of gloves or washing of hands may already kill millions of disease-causing viruses and bacteria so making sure that those practices recommended are diligently followed.

Practicing veterinarians can easily transition to become epidemiologists because they won’t have to learn so much on the topic of animals as common hosts of pathogenic agents. For those who want to be an epidemiologist, taking veterinary medicine would be a good stepping stone. A word of caution though for those who want to pursue epidemiology, since diseases is what will be the topic throughout most of the course make sure to eat lunch outside the classroom as the petri dishes inside the laboratory might have live germs on them.

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