The Center for Disease Control, the leading government agency in charge of promoting health and controlling the spread of communicable diseases in the US usually has a team of toxicologist in its payroll. Basically, a Toxicologist studies symptoms, mechanisms, treatments and detection of poison or toxins particularly in people. Toxicology is a branch of immunology that deals mainly with toxins and poisons. A number of diseases are actually caused by the toxins microorganisms emit rather than the action of the microorganism itself on its host body. In fact, some toxins whose toxicity levels have been reduced are used as vaccines but are better known as toxoids. Perhaps, the term toxoid might not be familiar to most of us but the anti-tetanus shot would probably ring a bell.

Toxicologists are not only useful to the Center for Disease Control and hospitals in general but in commercial enterprises too. Toxicology is perhaps one of those medical professionals that are not limited to a hospital or a teaching life. Cosmetics companies usually have a resident toxicologist to make sure the cosmetic products they sell do not contain toxins that would cause skin irritation to the buying public. Pharmaceutical companies would also need the services of a Toxicologist. Every year a single pharmaceutical company launches one or more drugs on the market. As a safety precaution, all new drugs need to undergo toxicity tests to avoid expensive lawsuits that may result from adverse reactions due to toxins. Perhaps the greatest need of toxicologists would be from food-based companies. Remember the great peanut butter scare in 2007 in the US? The Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter brands, both manufactured by a single company were forced to recall their products from grocery shelves due to salmonella concerns. Moreover, they had to pay lost wages and hospitalization bills of those who got affected from consuming the aforementioned peanut butter brands. Obviously, the toxicologist of ConAgra Foods, Inc. overlooked something and the result was an epidemic spanning over 39 states.

Typically, a Toxicologist’s function is to isolate, identify and quantify toxic substances on biological matters like animals and plants. A Toxicologist would also be busy doing laboratory and field experiments as it is primarily a medical research profession. Analyzing and interpreting statistical data along with some scientific literature research would be a task needed to be carried out once in a while. Documentation of research findings is a must for any practicing scientist so whatever case or research needs to be written down for future references and as well as for personal records. It is also in their job description to develop workable models to predict long term effects of chemicals/toxins within a given environment. One of the most important tasks of a Toxicologist would be to advise safe handling of toxic substances. And lastly, acts as a liaison officer with regulatory bodies in compliance with national and international regulations.

As with any other fields of specialization, before becoming a Toxicologist, a general medicine diploma is a pre-requisite. Only those with an MD are qualified to enroll in immunology courses and then make sure to indicate to have toxicology as major.

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