Vet Med Students 2010 Study Abroad in Germany

Vet Med Students 2010 Study Abroad in Germany

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  • Learning About Foreign Animal Diseases at the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (June 15, 2010)

    Tuesday, June 15, found us still on the beautiful island of Riems, attending a day of lectures on foreign animal diseases at the Friedrich Loeffler Institute.  As most of the group is interested in food safety, zoonotic diseases, and epidemiology, this day was fascinating and flew by.  We started off the morning with African Swine Fever (Dr. Sandra Blome) over coffee, juice, and cookies.  A fine combination.

    Click to enlargeThe FLI is currently doing research on African S wine fever to learn more about the disease pathogenesis and transmission to apply to trade regulations and foreign policy development. African Swine fever is caused by a virus transmitted by soft ticks feeding off wild and domestic pigs. The virus is highly contagious and causes severe economic losses due to high death rates infecting different organ systems. This is of concern to Germany because the re is a substantial wild boar population, and the potential exists to spread to domestic pig populations (swine raising facilities). Countries in Eastern Europe have had outbreaks in the past couple years, so the disease is at Germanys back door, so to speak.

    The next topic of foreign animal diseases was Foot and Mouth Disease, another disease that is in neighboring countries with the potential to spread like wildfire. Dr. Bernd Haas, the head of the National Laboratory, explained this disease was the reason Riems island was founded, 100 years ago in 1910, to begin the study of it and all viruses. Foot and mouth disease can rapidly spread to infect cattle, sheep, g oats, pigs, antelope, bison, and deer. The virus causes severe losses in production (milk and meat quantity), and can be fatal in some cases but not to the extent of African Swine Fever. Germany eradicated the disease in the late 1960s, but the disease is curr ently endemic in Africa, Asia, and India. The research is focused on finding a more effective vaccine to stockpile and rapid diagnostic tests in case of an outbreak. The UK suffered a devastating outbreak in 2001, leading to billions of dollars loss and extreme changes in animal production due to culling and destroying infected animals to stem the spread of the disease.
    Transmissible Spongioform Encephalopathy was the third topic presented. TSE is the broad category under which falls Bovine Spongioform Encephalopathy (mad cow disease), Scrapie in sheep, and Chronic Wasting Disease in deer and elk. The diseases are caused by a protein, prion, that causes degeneration of the brain and spinal cord. Current surveillance for the disease is done at the slaughterhouse in cattle 48 months old and older. Prions can be passed to humans and mammals through ingestion of infected neural material. In humans, the disease is called the new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. In the past couple of years, a couple of variants or different forms of prions have been found. Research efforts are looking at how the prion gets into t h e brain and spinal cord, and at control measures to preventing the spread of the disease.

    An epidemiologist, Timm Harder, lectured on Avian Influenza virus research. He reviewed the history of different influenza strains and their impacts on human and animal populations, as seen with the Avian influenza outbreak in 2005 with H5N1 in southeast Asia. He emphasized the importance of surveillance in wild and domestic flocks of waterfowl and poultry, as the strains can change and pass back and forth between the two groups, and crosses easily into new species such as mammals. In his opinion, more surveillance of wild fowls should be executed to monitor which strains are developing and are prominent to serve as an early warning for possible strains that could affect humans. Dr. Harder explained that any kind of treatment, vaccine, or containment method places pressure on the virus to change through antigenic drift. This constant shift in the predominant pathogenic strain is the source of difficulty in finding the proper strain for which to develop an effective vaccine.
     Click to enlargeThe next topic, Bluetongue Virus, was presented by Drs. Martin Beer and Bernd Hoffmann.  Bluetongue is a virus that is carried by mosquitoes. Goats and cattle can be afflicted with a mild form of pneumonia and vascular hemorrhage. Sheep are more severely affected, with a higher mortality rate. Despite the name, tongues are rarely blue unless the animal has a severe form of pneumonia with such rapid onset to cause low oxygen levels, resulting in cyanosis. This disease is of concern because it has a long incubation period of 80 days, in which an animal is infected, can shed the virus to other animals, but is not acting clinically sick. The potential for a lot of animals to be  exposed and infected is high if one mosquito carrying the virus infects one animal in a nave herd. The virus has a low mortality rate, meaning only about 1% of animals will die from the disease, but with a high morbidity, or a large percent of animals will get sick (50% in this case). Germany started a 2 year eradication program in 2008 through vaccination to stem the spread of disease through northern Europe. The program was effective, but costly to the vaccine manufacturer, the government, and producers. The mandatory vaccination was discontinued, but remains as an example of the efficacy of mass vaccination to stop an outbreak scenario.

    And that was just the morning. Pretty actio n packed so far.
    We had a pretty sweet pathology review with Professor Jens Teifke in the afternoon, a board certified veterinary pathologist who is conducting research at the Friedrich Loeffler Institute. He presented many slides of tissues that brought back memories of Dr. Zachary, our pathology teacher second year, to help tie in several classes together to figure out a disease process. AKA, putting it all together like a real veterinarian. Dr. Teifkes main message was that as a pathologist, keep your mind open to look and find a lesion. That lesson could probably be applied to many things in life, not just pathology.

      Dr. Teifke also educated us about Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease. This is another disease that does not look like what the name describes; there is usually not hemorrhage involved. This virus can cause a rabbit to die acutely (in less than 24 hours) through shutting down different organs, or it can cause a chronic disease if the r abbit survives the acute stage.

    A second disease Dr. Teifke talked about was Classical Swine Fever, a virus that is found in the EU. The disease was eradicated in Germany through a control program of baiting. Classical Swine Fever can cause hematomas (large blood filled lumps) in the ears, red extremities, swollen lymph nodes, ulcers, necrosis, and encephalitis due to vascular damage and clot formations. Classical Swine Fever looks just like African Swine Fever, except that the former disease is found in the EU, while the latter is not. The standard of testing is to currently collect third eyelids from wild boars that are hunted, as this is a reliable site of where the virus collects.

    Click to enlargeThe last disease Dr. Teifke lectured on was rabies. Germany does not have the problem in wildlife populations like the USs skunk, bat or raccoon because of a baiting eradication program in the 1970s and 1980s. The FLI is currently looking at the susceptibility of sheep to rabies, as Denmark has rabies in their bat population. Again, due to the landlocked borders of Europe, this disease has the potential to spread to Germany. It is interesting to think of the different logistics of protecting a countrys borders from invasion, whether by pests or enemies, when you are separated by an ocean or by a line on a map. I think I can safely say we all walked away that day a little more grateful for the rest of the worlds surveillance and diligence in disease control, yet more called to action to bring the US up to higher standards in that respect.

    Click to enlargeWe wound the warm night up in the picturesque old fishing village of Wieck near Greifswald. We had a fabulous dinner at the restaurant Utkiek which is located right on the water and surrounded on 3 sides by the Baltik Sea. Our dinner followed the trend of most dinners in Germany: great food, great wine, and stimulating conversation that covered politics to religion to culture to jokes and embarrassing stories. And so ended another great day on our rotation..





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