In the Community: Viruses—All in a Day’s Job

When we talked with AAHA-accredited practice Stenner Creek Animal Hospital in San Luis Obispo, California, more than a year ago, the practice was actively involved in its community’s 4-H club. That has all changed.

The Edna 4-H Veterinary Science members show off their biohazard buckets and supplies. (Photo courtesy of Stenner Creek Animal Hospital)

Editor’s note: Since the advent of the coronavirus, veterinary practices’ community service has shifted. We reached out to several practices we’ve interviewed in the past to see how they’re doing.

When we talked with AAHA-accredited Stenner Creek Animal Hospital in San Luis Obispo, California, more than a year ago, the practice was actively involved in its community’s 4-H club. (Both practice owner Mark O’Reilly, DVM, and Erin Dewegeli, RVT, grew up in 4-H.)

At the time, Stenner Creek was running an annual 4-H Veterinary Science project that met twice a month for seven months. Dewegeli provided veterinary instruction and mentorship and O’Reilly helped as needed. “Luckily, the 4-H veterinary project had concluded before the coronavirus crisis began,” Dewegeli told AAHA. “But all of the 30 clubs in our area now must have virtual meetings through Zoom.”

The biggest hit of all was to 4-H members with plans to take their livestock to county fairs. That has all changed.

“The cancellation of many county fairs and junior livestock auctions is creating a lot of heartache and uncertainty,” said Dewegeli. “This is especially true for junior livestock exhibitors who have invested money and time in their market animals. A question many 4-H members are asking now is, ‘How can I sell my market animal if the fair is closed?’” (Luckily, there are online auctions and private treaty sales—that is, direct seller-to-buyer sales.)

In some ways, Stenner Creek’s 4-H program has been practicing how to manage viruses for some time. In 2019, poultry shows had to cancel because of the Newcastle disease, a highly infectious disease that can decimate chicken and egg supplies. (The virus is still active and poultry shows are still canceled.)

Just before the coronavirus, Stenner Creek assisted the Edna 4-H Veterinary Science project. “We assembled and presented biosecurity buckets and supplies to each animal project,” said Dewegeli. “The purpose was to help prevent contagious and infectious diseases of new animals purchased from one location and transported to the home farm. Little did we know that these supplies and training would be so important this soon!”

Several months after the coronavirus emerged, Stenner Creek’s 4-H members dealt with yet another virus, rabbit hemorrhagic disease. Because of the highly contagious nature of the virus, 4-H members were asked to keep their rabbit projects at home and limit exposure to other rabbits. (The virus has not been shown to transmit to people or other animal species.)

Needless to say, when the coronavirus occurred, Stenner Creek was prepared. Staff immediately stockpiled supplies and established a safety protocol. The team donned face shields or masks, gowns, and gloves and decontaminated their lower legs and shoes whenever re-entering the hospital. Staff was also supplied with masks, gloves, and spray for their cars and homes.

Do all these viruses dim Stenner Creek’s outlook for the future? Not at all. “It’s up to us, as veterinary professionals, to be positive and think ahead of the problems,” said Dewegeli. That appears to be exactly what Stenner Creek is doing.

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