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Dogs, cats play role in biosecurity

Just as miners used canaries to detect lethal gas, dogs and cats could be the first creatures to alert America to a biosecurity attack.

Larry Glickman, professor of epidemiology and environmental medicine at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, in collaboration with colleagues at Purdue and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has begun a study using a national pet health database to assess whether dogs and cats are sentinels that could provide early warning for terrorist-related attacks. The first data transfer to test the proposed surveillance system is scheduled for early March.

"We are developing analytical techniques that, when used in a timely way, could signal a terrorist attack," says Glickman. "This approach is intended to complement, not replace, human medical record-based surveillance systems currently under development and give practicing veterinarians a key role in the war on terrorism."

Glickman is working with Banfield Pet Hospitals on the design of this Purdue-based pet surveillance system, called the VMD-SOS, which stands for Veterinary Medical Data-Surveillance of Syndromes.

Banfield Pet Hospital, with approximately 300 veterinary hospitals located in 43 states, electronically records health information for the approximately 60,000 cats and dogs seen each week in their practices.

"Every night that information is processed, and with the right programming we could be alerted to an anthrax or plague outbreak in cats or dogs," Glickman says. "Every night the clinical and laboratory information on these pets is sent electronically to a central data warehouse. With the right computer programming and statistical analysis, this information will allow us to detect terrorist attacks related to the use of chemical or biological agents, such as anthrax or plague. Public health officials could be notified before they might otherwise be by human health surveillance systems, which tend to be more regionalized and less standardized."

Researchers at Purdue have previously used veterinary hospital records of dogs and cats, together with information obtained from owners, to identify environmental causes of cancer in pets.

CONTACT: Glickman, (765) 494-6301,