A new four-week course recently wrapped up at UTMB, and according to the organizing faculty, the students felt it achieved its objective of teaching them about investigating, managing and controlling an outbreak of a zoonotic agent of unknown origin.
Dennis Bente, PhD, DVM, an Associate Professor in the UTMB Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, teamed with Matt Dacso, MD, an internal medicine faculty member in the UTMB School of Medicine, to champion the ambitious four-week course, which involved collaborations with Texas A&M University and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV).
The past several decades have seen profound shifts in the global burden of disease. On the backdrop of global socio-economic development, there has been a profound transition in the epidemiology and distribution of both chronic/non-communicable and infectious diseases. Increased population mobility, globalization, and industrialization have also spurred changes in the planet’s climate, which is causing extreme transformations within human and animal ecosystems and thus potentiating the emergence of novel pathogens. As our recent experience with the Ebola, Zika, and Chikungunya epidemics demonstrated, the United States remains vulnerable to emerging and re-emerging infectious threats. Addressing this state of affairs requires a workforce that is prepared to engage in transdisciplinary, interprofessional collaboration.
What is One Health and Why Take this Course?
OneHealth is defined as “the collaborative effort of multiple disciplines – working locally, nationally, and globally – to attain optimal health for people, animals, and our environment” Implementing this approach requires breaking down professional silos and engaging medical and veterinary professionals, laboratory scientists, the public health community, policymakers, and experts from the biomedical, social, and environmental sciences.
The course was designed for veterinary students, medical students and graduate students, providing them all with the chance to study under the One Health concept and manage a fictitious infectious disease outbreak.
The course, called “Field Experience in One Health and Outbreak Investigation” provided students and faculty from Texas A&M, UTRGV and UTMB with the opportunity to work together on a project that spanned the state from Central Texas to South Texas to the Gulf Coast investigating and managing a plausible infectious disease outbreak simulation.
The students began by observing an animal necropsy in College Station from the animal identified as the outbreak’s “Patient Zero.” Students also participated in field collection work and animal examinations, including removing ticks from raccoons. Personality tests and team building skills were also a part of the early days of the course.
Mosquito collections, more field work and vector identification skills were honed in the Valley, where environmental factors create the perfect locale for learning about mosquito borne viruses, and once the students arrived at UTMB, the focus turned to biosafety training, epidemiological analyses, contact tracing, emergency response training, inter-professional collaborations, political economy and infection control strategies.
Students worked with health care providers, veterinarians, public health officials and emergency responders, and they also gained experience dealing with the public and concerned “members of the press.”
According to Dr. Bente, the students worked extremely hard for four weeks, and many were excited by the possibilities the course opened up to them for focusing their careers.
“It’s one thing to be a graduate student or a medical student or a vet student, but when you show students where their specialty fits in the entire spectrum of public health, it becomes very exciting for them,” Bente said.
The course will likely be offered again in the summer 2019 session. Funding for the course was provided by Texas A&M University, the Texas Network on National Security, and the UTMB Collaborating Center for Global Health.