bites and barfblog: we help the next generation ask the right questions, and teach some writing basics

barfblogger and second-year Kansas State veterinary student Michelle Mazur stars in a Dec. 3/09 story from the American Veterinary Medical Association which calls “ one of the sickest (and funniest) sites about food safety.”

Mazur said she stumbled into her job after a food microbiology class she took as an undergrad at Kansas State. She started as a news puller for and now she’s been writing for the blog for about a year, covering issues related to her veterinary-school studies like Brucellosis, her summer job on Plum Island Animal Disease Center, the dangers of salmonella on pet turtles, and even about therapy animals.

“The world has really opened up for me, writing for Just pulling news for Doug for six months I learned so much. It exposed me to so much news, and it’s a great college job. I can start work at 4 a.m. after my studies.

“I’ve learned that there are ways we can improve food safety in this country. Those who produce must produce properly, and those that consume must consume properly.”

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Hendra virus claims fourth Australian

The Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) may see an increase in demand for research on the bat-borne Hendra virus (HeV). On Sept. 1, 2009, Hendra claimed Australian veterinarian Alister Rodgers (pictured right).  Dr. Rodgers is the second vet to die from Hendra, and the fourth of seven humans to succumb to the virus (below).

VIN (Veterinary Information Network) reports:
There is no known cure for Hendra virus (genus Henipavirus, family Paramyxoviridae). The disease gets its name from the Brisbane suburb where it was first isolated in 1994, from specimens obtained during an outbreak of respiratory and neurologic disease in horses and humans, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Humans become ill after exposure to the body fluids of horses infected with the virus. The natural reservoir for Hendra virus is suspected to be Australia’s flying foxes.

Veterinarians are more at risk to contract Hendra since they are the most likely to spend time with sick horses. A survey of 4,000 vets conducted by the CDC through the American Veterinary Medical Association found that even though vets were concerned about zoonotic disease, the concerns didn’t translate to better biosecurity practices. The results of this study highlight the need for veterinarians to put biosecurity practices into action and establish standard procedures to reduce infection of vets and their staff.

The Compendium of Veterinary Standard Precautions for Zoonotic Disease Prevention in Veterinary Personnel was published in the Aug. 1, 2008 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The 18-page document gives guidance on everything from isolating animals with infectious diseases to cleaning and decontamination. Its appendixes address zoonotic diseases of importance in the US as well as the characteristics of disinfectants.

The Australian Veterinary Association said:
Vets around Australia are mourning the death of Dr Rodgers.  It is absolutely devastating to lose another vet so soon, and we must do everything within our power to stop this from ever happening again. All indications are that Hendra is here to stay. It is probable that cases will emerge in states other than Queensland. Governments around Australia need to take this disease seriously right now and invest in measures to address the problem.

Learn more about Hendra through ABC’s Catalyst.

UK veterinarians want to tackle disease, not play Diversity Day

Farmers Weekly Interactive reports that while farmers fight for their livelihoods, the entire UK Animal Health workforce of about 1700 staff will have to undergo workplace training, which includes learning how to play the drums and playing games.

One vet spoke of management’s attempt at Diversity Day (from The Office, right and below) by saying,

"… we wasted an entire day playing games, mucking about and banging drums.I am appalled that taxpayers are being asked to foot the bill for this when we are supposed to be fighting disease.”

A spokeswoman for Animal Health said,

"As well as strategy, aspects of the day focus on effective teamwork and how it can help Animal Health deliver better outcomes in the future.

"This was done in a fun and interesting way which involved staff doing activities together.”

UK government vets gagged on badger cull

Farmers Guardian is reporting that UK government veterinarians, in the interest of an open and frank discussion, have been told to sit quietly and not express their views on whether badgers should be culled to control bovine TB — unless their opinion agrees with whatever the government decides to do.

In a circular email, seen by Farmers Guardian, the Defra agency has told all its staff that a major announcement from Defra on TB policy, including the decision on badger culling, is expected ‘within the next few weeks’.

The message, sent by Animal Health field services director Andy Foxcroft, says it is ‘essential that all members of Animal Health are seen to support Government policy’ whatever decision is made, stating, “I appreciate that this maybe challenging, given the strong views some of our customers groups hold about the issues. However, I know that you will appreciate that it is critical. Therefore, all Animal Health staff who come into contact with customers, either by telephone or in person, will be expected to not express any disagreement with the Defra position on TB strategy at any stage."

A former state vet, who  asked to remain anonymous, said old colleagues were ‘surprised’ by the email that smacked of ‘paranoia.’

An Animal Health spokeswoman said the agency had "taken the opportunity to remind our staff of the need to support" Defra policy, whatever decision is made in order ‘to ensure there is no confusion."

"Farmers need one clear message on the position on bTB."

Vet shortage threatens food system: what Kansas State is doing

A shortage of veterinarians who treat farm animals is, according to USA Today, stressing the nation’s food inspection system, prompting the federal government to offer bonuses and moving expenses to fill hundreds of vacancies.

There is a severe shortage of veterinarians who treat farm animals or work as government inspectors. The scarcity is most severe in the USA’s Farm Belt, the lightly populated rural areas in the Midwest that produce much of the nation’s meat.

Gregory Hammer, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association says,"

"We’re in a crisis situation. We don’t have enough rural veterinarians to be a first line of defense against animal diseases."

The number of vets needed will grow by 22,000 by 2016, making it one of the fastest-growing professions, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

The nation’s 28 veterinarian schools produce 2,500 graduates a year, a number that hasn’t changed in three decades. Baby boomer retirements — especially among farm vets — hasten the shortage.

Ralph C. Richardson (right), dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University and all-around cool guy wrote in today’s USA Today today that

The Kansas Legislature, in concert with the veterinary college at Kansas State University, has established "The Veterinary Training Program for Rural Kansas" as a way to ensure an adequate number of veterinarians practicing in rural Kansas.

It allows a veterinary student to borrow $80,000 over a four-year period while in college. After graduation, $20,000 worth of educational debt is forgiven for every year up to four years that these new graduates practice in rural Kansas. This opportunity is granted to five KSU veterinary students every year.

The VTPRK allows new graduates to establish themselves in underserved areas without worrying about paying back large educational debts.

Kansas and Kansas State University are committed to keeping rural America thriving and to ensuring the safety of the urban food supply.