On Friday, September 8 and Saturday, September 9, Cornell’s Veterinary Public Health Association hosted the College’s 8th Annual Veterinary Public Health Symposium.
The symposium commenced on Friday evening with the annual Poppensiek Lecture, given in the name of the late Dr. George C. Poppensiek, which invites one distinguished scholar to Cornell each year. This year we welcomed Dr. W. Ron de Haven, former Executive Vice President of the American Veterinary Medical Association, to deliver the symposium keynote.
Dr. DeHaven came to the AVMA with more than two decades of experience at the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). As APHIS administrator, Dr. DeHaven was responsible for protection of U.S. agriculture and natural resources from exotic pests and diseases, administering the Animal Welfare Act, and carrying out wildlife damage management activities. Prior to starting work at APHIS, Dr. DeHaven served in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps.
Dr. De Haven’s lecture began with the story of the development of veterinary medicine—and veterinary medical curricula—through history, progressing from an equine-dominated industry to the companion-animal focus that is emphasized today. He surveyed the current job market in various traditional and nontraditional veterinary career paths, offering advice to students from international experts in each of these fields, and proceeded to elaborate on many different aspects of the veterinary career that unite its diverse professionals. Dr. De Haven’s talk was thought-provoking and eye-opening for the large crowd in attendance, which represented individuals from all over the university and beyond!
Saturday’s academic conference was organized into 3 separate series of 30-minute lectures, each culminating in a panel discussion. Topics covered included Mental Health, Planetary Health, and Herd Health.
The Mental Health panel included Mr. Frank Kruppa, who concurrently serves as the Tompkins County Public Health Director and Tompkins County Mental Health Commissioner. Today, mental health falls under the umbrella of public health, but this connection was not always so clear. Modifying public health campaigns to support mental well-being is a critical step in safeguarding the health of the community at large.
Dr. Gregory Eells, psychologist and director of Cornell’s Counseling and Psychological Services, discussed mental health among Cornell students. Dr. Eells is a former Chair of the Mental Health Section of the American College Health Association (ACHA) and a former president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD). While Dr. Eells was able to provide data to disprove Cornell University’s reputation as a “suicide school,” he also noted that budget constraints have made it very difficult to provide enough therapists to match the demand on campus.
Dr. Lila Miller, Vice President of Shelter Medicine for the ASPCA and adjunct assistant professor at Cornell, spoke about “the Link” between animal cruelty and domestic violence. The National Link Coalition website explains how an interdisciplinary group of researchers and professionals in the fields of human and animal welfare have established “significant correlations between animal abuse, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, elder abuse and other forms of violence.” Veterinarians play an important role in reporting animal abuse to the authorities, and should always ask questions about the home life of their patients, which can provide clues and “red flags” about animal abuse. Animal abuse may also indicate that human members of the family are not in a safe environment. The Link provides a list of resources aimed at reducing animal abuse and human violence.
Joining our mental health panel discussion were Mariah Beck and Eden Stark, two insightful CVM students representing of our College Wellness Initiative. Eden Stark is a third year veterinary student with a Master’s in Microbiology from Wagner College, with interests in conservation medicine, infectious diseases, and epidemiology. Mariah Beck is a second year veterinary student who serves as the mental health chair for the CUCVM Wellness Initiative, and a leader in the CVM’s recent Go Green initiatives for environmental sustainability. This year, the CVM issued a new rule for student organizations and College-wide events aimed at reducing waste throughout the college, by requiring students to bring their own bowls and utensils to events where food is served, instead of providing disposable paper and plastic products.
On the Planetary Health Panel, Dr. Stephen Osofsky, Jay Hyman Professor of Wildlife Health and Heath Policy at Cornell, discussed his work with the Planetary Health Alliance at Harvard, and his collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation. Planetary health emphasizes the importance of environmental and ecosystem health to the preservation of human health and animal conservation. Planetary Health differs from One Health because Planetary Health prioritizes protecting the environment in order to ensure human health, and animals benefit secondarily from the health of the ecosystem. For instance, slash and burn farming practices in Southeast Asia have caused a haze in the air, leading to respiratory and cardiac diseases in humans. By focusing on improving the environment to support better human health outcomes, rainforests where rhinos and orangutans live will be saved, too. Planetary Health has the potential to drive concrete outcomes in both wildlife conservation and global health.
Cornell CVM’s Professor of Epidemiology Dr. Hussni Mohammed spoke about working with the NYC department of sanitation to eliminate parasites from the watershed and safeguard water supplies, without needing to design new water treatment filtration facilities, which would incur an enormous financial burden. His research interests have always centered on the intersection between agent, host, and environment.
Dr. Karyn Havas, the Section Chief of the Masters Program in Public Health Infectious Disease Epidemiology, discussed biosecurity in the swine industry. While many individual farms have high levels of biosecurity, the nature of the swine market is that pigs are shuttled throughout the country as they move through their different life stages, and all this transport opens up the opportunity for rapid and devastating disease outbreaks. Dr. Havas also touched on public and corporate social responsibility when it comes to preventing outbreaks.
On the Herd Health Panel, Dr. Elizabeth Bunting, our own New York State Wildlife Veterinarian, delivered an update on Chronic Wasting Disease, a prion disease of wild deer, and how our understanding of the disease has evolved through the years. Formerly thought not to affect deer at the population level, newer studies suggest that the disease might be impacting herd numbers. The CWD prion protein, while not currently considered a zoonotic risk to humans, has the potential to persist in the soil for over a decade and serve to reinfect deer after that time, and has also been shown to be taken up by plants grown in that soil, opening a larger discussion of the role the disease might eventually play in human health.
Dr. Elizabeth Berliner, Director of Shelter Medicine in Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program, shared her public health perspective from the unique field of shelter medicine—in which population-level considerations in companion animal health transform traditional cat and dog medicine into a discipline well-suited to “herding cats.” Shelters have changed, and are changing, to keep cats healthy and happy when they are in their care, but the real goal is minimizing a cat’s shelter stay, because even well-designed and biosecure shelters are environments well-suited to disease outbreaks: many cats with unknown health and vaccination histories, in close proximity to each other. Modern approaches of better biosecurity, individual cages, and stress reducing measures are critical in preventing disease outbreaks.
Dr. Lorin Warnick, our Dean of Veterinary Medicine, discussed food safety, zoonotic disease, and the evolution of the livestock industry. As a fitting conclusion to an enlightening day, Dr. Havas addressed the upsurges in measles and mumps outbreaks in the United States over the last decade. Measles is recurring due to a widespread decrease in childhood vaccinations, while mumps outbreaks are predominantly occurring in vaccinated college-aged adults. Both situations bring up important questions about how public health officials address herd immunity and disease resurgence, and what policies should be adopted in the face of outbreaks.
Though each of our speakers lectured on a different topic, each was very aware of how their work fits into the mosaic of veterinary medicine. Our panel discussions provided valuable opportunities for faculty and students to engage and appreciate the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration. This year’s conference has helped to foster a drive towards expanding the boundaries of what the veterinary profession has to offer in solving problems no smaller than food security, health disparities across socioeconomic classes, and our planet’s dwindling biodiversity. This year’s Public Health Symposium was a timely reminder of the many roles that veterinarians can, and must, play in public health, and an important message for students to keep in mind as we move forward to tackle issues on an individual or a global scale!
This article was written by third year veterinary students Molly Chirunomula, Sarah Balik and Isabel Jimenez.