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A veterinary epidemiologist monitors animal populations to protect both human and animal health. The job can include responding to disease outbreaks, participating in clinical trials, and working with public health officials. People in this field may be employed by government agencies as well as pharmaceutical companies and animal welfare organizations. In many regions, it is necessary to be a licensed veterinarian with clinical experience to work as an epidemiologist, and some employers prefer job candidates with specific experience and training in the field of epidemiology.
Animal health and welfare is a cause for concern for a number of reasons. Diseases in animal populations can hop to humans, whether they’re influenza viruses in birds or drug resistant bacterial infections in food animals. Poor health among animal populations can also have an economic impact; for example, if a population of food animals has to be destroyed because of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The veterinary epidemiologist works to protect the interests of humans and animals, with a focus on limiting the outbreak of disease and controlling it when it does occur.
Certain animal diseases may be subject to mandatory reporting, where farmers, veterinarians, and others who come into contact with sick animals need to file a report with a veterinary epidemiologist. These health care professionals track reports, respond to disease outbreaks, and manage investigations. In the case of an outbreak of known disease, the veterinary epidemiologist can administer the response plan to control it. With unknown diseases, the job can require some sleuthing to find out what is going on and develop a way to manage it.
Veterinary epidemiologists may provide public outreach and education, particularly to those working with animals. They can discuss common diseases, ways to prevent them, and how to identify them when they do emerge in animal populations. This can cause particular concern with animals that are transported and sold, like meat animals that may be shipped to distant feedlots, or animals used in research that could be imported from outside the country. If infected, they could spread disease to new populations and cause a public health crisis.
Another aspect of the job can focus on the development of treatments for sick animals. Clinical trials may involve a veterinary epidemiologist, and monitoring can occur after drugs are approved for sale. If a pattern of adverse reactions, unusual drug interactions, or other issues starts to arise, the drug may be subject to review to determine if it needs additional warnings or should be pulled from the market.
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