Veterinarians Encouraged to Revisit Zoonotic Disease Prevention with Clients

Across the board, veterinary professionals are taking a closer look at how they convey information about zoonotic disease to clients. On March 5-6, 2005, members of the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) met in Philadelphia to discuss ways to “increase awareness [about zoonotic disease] without increasing fear” among pet owners, said Michael Paul, DVM, president of CAPC. Meanwhile, a national seminar titled “Paw & Order” debuted at the North American Veterinary Conference and highlights the legal and ethical ramifications that veterinarians encounter when they do not inform and/or document their efforts to inform clients of zoonotic disease. The session will also be offered at the 2005 AAHA Yearly Conference.

“Everybody knows that [zoonotic disease] happens but in everybody’s mind it happens somewhere else,” Paul said. “I did a woefully bad job of communicating the risks [of zoonotic diseases] to my clients during my 30 years in practice,” Paul admits. “In California the perception is that it only happens in certain areas of the country or that it only happens to certain economic segments of the population. And while its [occurrence] is extremely uncommon, it can cause terrible disease, and if you’re that small percentage it can be devastating,” he added.

Paul likened the occurrence of contracting zoonotic disease to that of getting into a car accident, and extended the analogy to compare prevention methods to the use of seatbelts. “There are dangers associated with automobile travel yet we always travel in cars,” he added.

Prevention is the emphasis of lectures that John Herbold, DVM, MPH, PhD, gives to human primary care physicians about the importance of educating patients about zoonotic disease. With the emergence of bioterrorism, Herbold said that doctors have been reminded of the term “one medicine,” which refers to the fact that there are no boundaries between man and other animals in terms of disease, he said.

Acknowledging the importance of education, the CAPC plans to launch a consumer website, air public service announcements (PSAs) and produce materials that set the stage for veterinarians to discuss prevention of zoonotic diseases, said Kathy Gloyd, DVM, executive director for CAPC.

“We don’t want to leave veterinarians as the only people trying to convince their clients that zoonotic disease is a problem,” Gloyd said. “Many veterinarians are concerned that client will think they are just trying to sell them something” instead of doing what’s best for the pet and the owner’s family.

In addition to qualms about financial motives and fears that pet owners will relinquish their pets instead of taking precautions to prevent zoonotic disease, some veterinarians are not fully prepared to discuss zoonotic disease with clients, said CAPC members. Parasitic disease is usually covered during the second year of medical school, and many parasites had not been identified before some practicing veterinarians graduated. To aid in professional education and provide updates, CAPC publishes an online list of zoonotic diseases complete with diagnoses, treatment options, medications and dosages, Gloyd said. The site also features pictures of parasites in animals and humans.

Other CAPC outreach efforts will include approaching elementary school teachers about the importance of keeping cats and raccoons out of sandboxes and emphasizing simple hygiene efforts to reduce the risks of zoonotic transmission, Paul said.

Industry efforts include an AAHA audio conference sponsored by Novartis Animal Health on March 31, 2005, that will focus on zoonotic diseases and include information about the expanded CAPC guidelines. The association recently teamed up with Merial to produce television and radio PSAs that educate consumers about zoonotic disease, and encourage clients to talk with veterinarians about prevention. Visit the AAHA website for registration information.

“If everybody takes small steps we can cut the incidence [of zoonotic disease] down to zero, and people will still have the benefits of pet ownership,” Paul added.