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Veterinary Scientists on the Ebola Frontline

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Dr. Kim Dodd at the entrance to the 'hot lab' wearing the associated personal protective equipment.

Sept. 19, 2014

As Sierra Leone enters a three-day, house-to-house campaign in an effort to slow the spread of Ebola virus, two veterinary scientists working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who received their Ph.D. and DVM degrees from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine will stay in the field, on the front lines in battling the largest Ebola outbreak since the deadly virus was identified in 1976.

Kim Dodd, a current UC Davis combined degree student (Ph.D. ‘14, DVM ‘15), joined her mentor and UC Davis alum Brian Bird in Sierra Leone in early September.  Dr. Bird (Ph.D. ’08, DVM ‘09) serves as a veterinary medical officer in the Viral Special Pathogens Branch of the CDC and is now the Lead of the CDC Ebola Field-Laboratory located at an Ebola Treatment Unit in Kenema, Sierra Leone.  This field-laboratory supports the international response to this unprecedented outbreak in partnership with the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international collaborators. The laboratory serves as a regional reference laboratory to provide rapid Ebola testing.

According to the latest data from the WHO, the current outbreak in West Africa encompasses five countries with more than 5,000 cases identified and 2,630 deaths to date, more people than the last 38 years combined. Veterinary scientists such as Dodd and Bird comprise a critical role in conducting the laboratory testing to identify cases so that rapid tracing of patient-contacts can begin and to reduce the transmission of Ebola within the population.

Dr. Bird and the CDC stress the importance of early and rapid testing, as the initial clinical signs of Ebola virus infection can be nonspecific and similar to those seen with malaria, lassa fever, or other tropical diseases. It is therefore critical to rapidly identify positive cases for referral to Ebola treatment centers, and to send negative cases elsewhere for treatment and follow-up, in order to reduce community transmission and control the outbreak.

Professor James MacLachlan, their mentor at UC Davis, says veterinary researchers like Dodd and Bird with the joint skillset of a DVM and PhD are invaluable in dealing with One Health situations like this Ebola outbreak where emerging and zoonotic diseases have such a devastating impact on global health.

“These two remarkable individuals now are on the front line of this exceptionally brutal disease outbreak – what an example for what a veterinary degree can lead to,” he said.

In an email update, Dodd notes that “the impact of the outbreak is devastating with so many families reeling from loss of loved ones, including many young children.”

Yet there are bright moments.

“Today was a good day – a total of 20 patients (survivors) were released to their families after fully recovering and finally testing negative. I spoke to the father of a 6-year-old girl who had been in the treatment center for 21 days. When she walked out, small yet brave in a new shirt two sizes too big for her, he and I both wept.”

While Bird and Dodd’s involvement in the outbreak response highlights the value of veterinary scientists in global public health challenges, it also illustrates the need for more individuals in the public health field with training in veterinary medicine, human medicine, diagnostics, and epidemiology to support international One Health efforts. 

 



 Trina Wood

Communications Officer

530-752-5257; tjwood@ucdavis.edu