Vet students prepare for animal disease outbreaks

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Many students spend the summer lounging around the house, working a part-time job or catching up with old friends. Four K-State veterinary medicine students, however, spent the summer equipping themselves with the skills needed to control foreign animal diseases and defend against agro-terrorism.

Michelle Colgan, second-year vet-med student, and Amy Gerhardt, Tiffany Moses and Jodi Wright, all third-year vet-med students, used the summer to help further their education in animal diseases and how to deal with them if outbreaks were to occur.

The students, part of the Veterinary Training Program for Rural Kansas, attended two separate programs.

Colgan and Gerhardt attend Agricultural Emergency Responder Training, where they dealt with topics like bio-chemical hazards and agro-terrorism. They attended the program in Aniston, Ala., at the Center for Domestic Preparedness.

The program prepared and trained Gerhardt and Colgan in emergency management and public health, including proper use of protective gear, setting up decontamination sites for mock crime scenes, doing blood draws and performing necropsies, or post-mortem examinations.

Colgan said this program was perfect for students from Kansas because it prepared them for possible crimes of agro-terrorism that could occur.

“It would be the perfect spot; because we have so many feedlots, it would spread like wildfire,” she said.

Colgan said agro-terrorism is viewed as a potential new line of terrorist attacks, and if diseases were to be distributed in the right manner, it could be very disastrous.

Moses and Wright attended the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Animal Disease practitioner’s program at the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa. The program was put together to help prepare people in the vet-med field to deal with hazardous animal diseases.

They worked with sheep, cow, pigs and chickens, taking blood draws and doing necropsies, all necessary steps that would be taken to deal with a potential outbreak.

Wright said the program gave them the knowledge necessary to be responders if Kansas were to need them.

“These are opportunities that are hard to come by,” she said.

Ronnie Elmore, professor and associate dean of the college of veterinary medicine, said it is extremely important for vet-med students to have the experience dealing with diagnosing, reporting and handling animal diseases.

Elmore said the knowledge they gained is the same information that was used when dealing with pets and livestock displacement in Greensburg, Kan., or the foot-and-mouth-disease outbreaks that happened in Great Britain.

He also said the topic of agro-terrorism is relevant to today.

“I think we’re all aware that it could happen, and someone could introduce foreign animal diseases into feedlots,” Elmore said. “It could cripple the whole food and animal industry.”

Funding these types of required programs for the Veterinary Training Program for Rural Kansas is possible with the help of a debt-forgiveness program through the government.

Elmore said for every year out of the four that a student is in the vet-med program, he is given $20,000 in loans. These loans can then be forgiven for each year a vet student works in a rural Kansas county. This would include the 90 out of 105 Kansas counties that have fewer than 35,000 people.

Elmore said Kansas was the first to get a debt forgiveness program like this.

“Kansas is certainly a leader in debt-forgiveness programs,” Elmore said. “We really are dedicated to helping vets go to rural Kansas.”

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