MJ Wixsom: Disease control is necessary

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Ep•i•de•mi•ol•o•gy, noun: the branch of medicine that deals with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health. 

I would have said that epidemiology is the science of disease transmission. It is something that was instilled in me while I was at vet school. 

So, when I got a call came into Guardian Animal on Monday morning that a puppy was sick with what appeared to be parvo; I knew I would have to work to protect the other puppies at another facility. 

Email newsletter signup

The Center for Disease Control says that the first step is to strengthen public health fundamentals, including infectious disease surveillance, laboratory detection, and epidemiologic investigation. A parvo outbreak in a pet facility is hardly a case for the CDC, but some of the same principles apply. In recent years, this has become part of shelter medicine. 

Quick identification and separation of the puppy probably helped to protect the other pups. An in-house laboratory test proved that the puppy was a strong positive for parvovirus. Four more pups quickly followed the puppy the same morning. A trip to the facility allowed me to implement some disease control measures. 

Sanitation and disinfection are both important disease control mechanisms, but not the same thing. Sanitation is the cleaning of the organic material from the area. Cleaning like picking up poop outside, scrubbing floors, wiping door knobs, cleaning dividers in cages etc. Sanitation is basically making things look clean. 

Disinfection is killing of the germs: bacteria, viruses and fungal elements. As much as you wash your hands, it is not possible to wash parvovirus off them. You must disinfect to kill the parvovirus on your hands. It is the same with floors, cages and surfaces. 

However, you cannot just throw disinfectant on a pile of poop and expect it to kill all of the virus particles. The disinfectant cannot penetrate the entire surface to kill the bacteria. So, you must clean ALL visible signs of dirt and grime and then disinfect. 

The facility was actually doing a pretty good job. I made some recommendations and taught about some potential problems, but probably a visitor brought in the parvovirus particles that infected the pups. 

Adding hand sanitizer to the outside of all pens will cut down on disease transmission. Employees should wear gloves and disinfect between litters. I did recommend that certain pens out front be assigned specific cages in the back. This cuts down on transmission between litters. We do this with our adoption animals, but I have to periodically remind employees that this is important. 

The CDC’s second step is to identify and implement high-impact public health interventions to reduce infectious diseases. Next to sanitation and disinfection, vaccinations are probably the most important intervention. Unfortunately, not all vaccinations are created equally. 

The pups had been vaccinated, but with an over-the-counter vaccine. Over half of our cases of parvo have a history of an over-the-counter vaccine. They are either stored improperly, given improperly, on an improper schedule or just don’t work. I was in a feed store once and saw a box of vaccines with a thick layer of dust on it. I pointed out to the store personnel that vaccines were supposed to be refrigerated. They picked up the box, with the dust, and put it in the refrigerator. Anyone buying the vaccines would think they were refrigerated, but the fact they had warmed up would make them worthless. 

At my hospital, if a $1,000 shipment of vaccines comes in warm, the company takes them back. Even if we cannot get credit, they are not used. The risk is too high. 

We pay more for our puppy vaccinations than three or four other very good brands. Our vaccines are so effective that the company will usually pay for treatment if the puppy is vaccinated through us. Needless to say, we got good vaccines in all of the puppies that were not sick. 

CDC’s final step is to develop and advance policies to prevent, detect, and control infectious diseases. With some cleaning and disinfecting changes, minimizing disease spread and proper vaccine schedules, most of the problems can be prevented. 

We were extremely fortunate. Of the eight puppies, four had parvo and were treated. One died within an hour of arriving at the hospital. Three are off IV fluids and are eating. And four puppies have not yet broken with parvo and may not. 

Of course, new employees will forget that there was an outbreak and one puppy died and the prevention will not be as strong. 

That is why it is a good idea to have a veterinarian visit periodically and provide advice. It is always better to learn by listening than to learn by doing. 

Epidemiology is something I was trained for, but disease control must be a methodical step-by-step, effort by everyone involved.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. GuardianAnimal.com 606-928-6566