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Equine Specialist Translates Research to Clinical Application

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Dr. Nicola Pusterla, DVM, PhD, DACVIM

When a major equine herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1) outbreak occurred in 2011 and lingered into 2012, equestrians turned to veterinarians at UC Davis to lead the charge on quelling the problem. The research and clinical experience of one faculty member in particular proved invaluable.

Nicola Pusterla has devoted his 20-year veterinary career to equine infectious diseases. His research focuses on selected aspects of the diseases with an emphasis on epidemiology, clinical disease understanding, diagnostics, prevention, and treatment. He has become one of the foremost authorities in the world on many facets of the broad subject.

Pusterla’s experience in infectious diseases and molecular epidemiology has allowed his lab to develop a structured concept on how to approach, investigate and control infectious disorders, independent of their nature. His ongoing research focuses on EHV-1, equine influenza, equine coronavirus (ECoV), equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, among others. Pusterla’s clinical experience allows him a first-hand look at some of the most concerning aspects of these diseases in horses, including how they change patterns and how viruses skirt vaccinations. 

One of Pusterla’s recently completed studies is the emergence of ECoV in mature horses. Long known to exist in foals, ECoV’s recent presence in adults is alarming to veterinarians, and has not been well documented until now. Pusterla’s study, presented at the American Association of Equine Practitioners convention, examined 268 horses from eight outbreaks in six states, including California. The researchers were able to determine several items, including length of infectiousness, common clinical signs, and the most effective method of testing.

As ECoV and other infectious diseases continue to plague the equine world, a team approach is what is needed to combat these diseases, explained Pusterla. Not just with academic colleagues, but also staying connected with the equine industry is what is needed to tackle these pertinent issues.

One of the most challenging aspects of his work is getting to outbreaks early enough to collect samples for studies, but with the help of technological advancements, the school’s Center for Equine Health and the multitude of research opportunities, they are gaining a better understanding of the immune system of horses and continually making progress toward best practices of treating these diseases. 

When asked where opportunities at the school can take researchers and clinicians, Pusterla responded, “The sky is the limit at UC Davis.”