Disease and Injury Among Veterinarians

James E. Lessenger

Key words: job tasks, hazards, trauma, infectious diseases, dermatoses, allergies, cancer, pregnancy, AIDS

Veterinarians have a unique position in agriculture. Their scientific knowledge of animal anatomy, physiology, and health makes them indispensable to the production of food. They are also important in the early identification of risks and hazards to food, especially from disease. Their close working relationship with production agriculture and animals exposes them to unique risks that will be explored in this chapter. In veterinary medicine, the patient is the animal, whether it is a reptile, bird, amphibian, fish, or mammal. The client is the owner of the animal, typically a farmer, agribusiness owner, or laboratory manager.

The job tasks of veterinarians are highly variable, as summarized in Table 21.1. They are involved in the clinical diagnosis and treatment of animal diseases, sometimes requiring subspecialization. Veterinarians are also engaged in teaching and research, regulatory medicine including food safety and inspection, public health, the military, and private industry (1).

Veterinarians may work in an office, or in farms, ranches, paddocks, and laboratories. They face many hazards, and the number of occupational illnesses and injuries they suffer is also high. Table 21.2 summarizes the hazards, injuries, and illnesses experienced by veterinarians (2).

A descriptive study conducted from 1967 to 1969 of the basic health characteristics of 1100 veterinarians in Illinois documented that 87% had consulted a physician concerning their health within the previous 30 months. Within the previous 18 months, 47% had been vaccinated against tetanus. Over one third of the veterinarians had received their last tetanus inoculation because of an injury. Thirty-one percent had been tested serologically for zoonotic infections other than at a meeting of the state veterinary association, and 12% were allergic to an antimicrobial (3).

270 J.E. Lessenger Table 21.1. Veterinary job tasks.

Clinical diagnosis and treatment of animals (may be limited to a specific family, genus, or species)

Internal medicine

Surgery

Toxicology

Laboratory animal medicine Poultry production health

Theriogenology (study of blood lines and reproduction)

Anesthesiology

Behavioral psychology

Clinical pharmacology

Dermatology

Emergency and critical care

Microbiology

Nutrition

Ophthalmology

Pathology

Radiology

Dentistry

Zoological medicine Teaching and research

Classroom teaching and research Field and laboratory work Regulatory medicine

Animal quarantine and inspection, development and testing of new animal vaccines, implementation and enforcement of humane laws Public health

Epidemiology, environmental health, food and medicine safety, supervision of laboratory animals Military

Research, clinical work, epidemiology, food inspection Private industry

Development of new production methods, drugs, chemicals, and biological products Source: Data from Hoblet et al. (1) and Jeyaretnam et al. (2).

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