A Look at Disease-Spread Prevention

Tucked away in the old deciduous woods of the Shenandoah Valley sits the Wildlife Center of Virginia. Focusing on two main medical aspects -- individual patient treatment and disease-spread prevention -- the Center provides Virginia with a state-of-the-art wildlife recovery facility. The prevention of disease-spread is dependent on the interspecies and intraspecies interactions. Due to the interaction of employees and animals at the Center, disease prevention must be considered on a human level.

Infectious diseases transmitted from animals to humans – zoonoses – are classified by their infectious agent type. The infectious agent types are fungi, bacteria, viruses, prions, protozoa, and helminths. Disease pathways are the spread of disease from organism to organism and can be linear, circular, triangular, or anything in-between. Some of the most prevalent diseases of our day are zoonoses. This includes: malaria, HINI (flu), HIV, and West Nile. Examining these four commonly known diseases on a simplistic level provides an illustration of disease-spread pathways.


Here we have the basic transmission cycles of both West Nile and H1N1 (Swine Flu).

As you can see, the pathway to humans is very different, despite both disease agents being viruses. In H1N1 transmission, the disease is spread to humans and then spread to further humans by the infected individual(s). This is not the case in West Nile Virus. Every disease has a unique pathway, which can be followed and mapped for prevention purposes. The passing of a disease from an animal host to humans is called spillover. At the center this is the point of disease spread we are most concerned about when it comes to human health.

Despite each disease having its own transmission pathway, there are a few universal actions we do at the Center to help prevent a generalized spillover event. These actions include: wearing latex or nitrile gloves while interacting with patients, preparing patients’ food/food dishes, and cleaning patients’ enclosures; disinfecting shoes worn while cleaning enclosures of patients known to carry parasites; wearing surgical masks during both surgeries and necropsies; changing into clean clothes following work; and washing hands after removing gloves, before eating, and before leaving the Center. Along with these universal prevention methods, certain animals are treated with extra care, as they are more likely to carry diseases. These animals include rabies vector species, such as bats and raccoons; deer, which can carry chronic wasting disease along with many other harmful diseases; and turtles, which have been shown to carry antibiotic-resistant gram-negative bacteria. Adult rabies vectors are housed in separated enclosures and are only cared for by rabies-vaccinated employees. Fawns, which can carry many infectious diseases, are placed in isolated pens with minimal human interaction. Disease transmission between turtles is of top concern and gloves used with a turtle patient are thrown away following use, and shoe soles are sterilized after working within the reptile room. Our goal is to prevent the passing of diseases from within the Center to the outside world.

While patient care is the main priority at the Center, personal care and health are the two most important things when interacting with wild animals. Every animal that comes into the Center is considered as a new disease reservoir and is treated as such. By following this simple ideology we help squash disease as it comes in the door.

WCV Class of 2013

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