PULLMAN, Wash. -- The Washington State University lab that helped discover a vaccine for canine parvovirus is focusing today on identifying and tracking diseases that can jump from animals to humans.
WSU infectious disease professor Jim Evermann, who was recruited in the 1970s by Leo Bustad, the former dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine, said the original mission of the laboratory was to diagnose animal diseases affecting populations.
Now, the mission has evolved to include tracking, surveillance and overall management of viruses including showing owners how to care for animals to deter the chances of disease.
WSU's Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (WADDL) is seeking to identify viruses that can jump species, such as West Nile virus and rabies, and test horse and bird samples sent by area veterinarians -- they tested about one animal per day in 2010, according to their annual report. He said interspecies transmission is an exciting field right now because viruses that can infect humans are being tracked.
From canine parvovirus to West Nile, Evermann has seen a lot of change in the function of WADDL.
He was featured in a Daily News article from 1985 for his work on canine parvovirus, an epidemic that affected puppies in the United States from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. WSU worked with Cornell University and discovered it came from a cat virus called feline panleukopenia. Within a few years, the WADDL was able to isolate parvo and develop a vaccine, which most dogs are given as puppies and annually in booster shots.
"We have found, though, that the virus continues to change," Evermann said.
WADDL is tracking parvo mutations to ensure it doesn't become another epidemic, and the lab is doing the same with many other viruses, he said.
Personally, Evermann wants to study clinical ecology, which tries to find where the infection is when it's not causing disease -- he said it's kind of late in the process to start research on an infection once it's affecting the host.
"What I'm trying to do is be more proactive ... and maybe do some early steps in detention and management," he said. That's his next big project.
Evermann said the future of the lab will be greatly affected by the new School for Global Animal Health, in that it will give students and professors working at WSU a global perspective and help train veterinarians from all over the world.
WADDL and the school itself is making strides in areas where few other institutions are active.
The laboratory is one of a small handful in the country that's monitoring canine coronavirus, which infects upper respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, as well as canine herpes and leptospirosis disease, Evermann said.
The School of Veterinary Medicine staff also have a focus on bighorn sheep, which were nearly extinct in Washington about 50 years ago. Now there are 1,200, but they are dying of pneumonia -- global animal health professor Tom Besser is researching the virus that causes their disease and WADDL staff has conducted "animal autopsies" on the dead bighorns to help understand the cause in hopes of saving the herds.
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