The recent Swine Flu scare reminds us yet again that humans catch a lot of diseases from animals. And who’s most likely to get these diseases? Veterinarians! Just because it’s controversial doesn’t mean it’s not true.

The recent H1N1 influenza epidemic has raised many questions about how animal viruses move to human populations. One potential route is through veterinarians, who are at markedly increased risk of infection with zoonotic pathogens, which are the viruses and bacteria that can infect both animals and humans. While there is no evidence that veterinarians played a direct role in the current Swine Flu epidemic, veterinarians can serve as a “bridging population,” spreading pathogens to their families, their communities and the various groups of animals for which they provide care. They have an increased risk for various pathogens, including swine flu and bird flu.

Researcher Gregory Gray says, “It has been estimated that the majority of more than 1,400 recognized human diseases are zoonotic and that more than 70% of 177 emerging or reemerging diseases have originated in animals. We can expect the majority of newly emergent human pathogens to similarly originate from animals. Clearly, there is a critical need to better understand pathogen transmission from animals to man and from man to animals.”

Gray and his team also focused on veterinarians’ self-reported use of protective equipment. These reports indicate that veterinarians often fail to routinely use recommended personal protective equipment, such as gloves, gowns and respiratory protection devices. They may neglect to wear protective gear because of discomfort, lack of availability, cost and the belief that there is a low risk of zoonotic infection.

Dogs don’t get bird flu and despite all the recent warnings about it, we may not be vulnerable to it either, for the same reason: our noses are too cold for the virus to survive. BBC News reports that the bird flu virus may have adapted to live in the warmer bodies of birds. However, like all viruses, it could mutate and then it WOULD potentially be a problem for humans.

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