These days it is easy for us to take our food for granted. Food is plentiful. Americans rarely have to wonder whether or not there will be food in the grocery stores. We just assume that it will be there, and it is. For that we need to thank the American farmer. I work as a veterinarian for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture in the Bureau of Animal Health. The majority of our mission it to be sure that the animals that provide food in our state are free of dangerous transmissible diseases.
Most people think that veterinarians just work with pets. Although I like that kind of work, I think that my job is much more fun than that. The state of Pennsylvania is divided into seven regions. I work in northwestern Pennsylvania. Each region has a veterinarian who is called a Veterinary Medical Field Officer. We have fascinating and exciting jobs investigating reports of dangerous diseases in poultry, deer and elk, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, cats and dogs, and many other species. I have had calls about sick fish, turtles, parrots, ferrets, yaks, bison, llamas, camels, and emus. That is what is the most fun. When the phone rings, we never know what will be happening next in our ten counties in northwestern Pennsylvania.
There are two Domestic Animal Health Inspectors, another veterinarian and a farm worker in my office. The most recent example of our exciting lives began with an evening call from a veterinarian. For the most part our job is confined to a normal 8am – 4pm workday with weekends and holidays off. But we understand that some veterinarians work all night, on Saturdays and in the evenings, so we always try to answer our cellular phones. We hope in this way to respond quickly to a disease problem. Early detection and intervention in a disease situation is always best.
So, Ring, ring! Ring, ring! A veterinarian in one of our northern counties is calling. One of her clients has had rabies diagnosed in one of his cows! The samples were sent to a diagnostic laboratory in another state, so this is our first report of the situation. From this point our goal will be to investigate and to determine which humans or animals have been exposed to the rabid cow. We may ask for other diagnostic tests. Depending on how serious a disease is, we may post quarantines. We work closely with the State Health Departments on these issues.
In this rabid cow case, three other cows on the property have now tested positive for rabies in our laboratory. An additional animal was not tested, but exhibited the clinical signs of rabies that we are familiar with in cows: drooling, unusual vocalizations, and posterior paralysis. None of the rabid cows were aggressive, something that frequently happens with other species. The remainder of the cattle and horses on the property were vaccinated for rabies and are quarantined. Additionally, six people were exposed to these rabid cows and are receiving postexposure vaccinations to prevent rabies!