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Significant National Public Health Achievements


Donald L. Noah

, DVM, DACVPM, College of Veterinary Medicine and DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine, Lincoln Memorial University;

Stephanie R. Ostrowski

, DVM, MPVM, DACVPM, Department of Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn University

Medically Reviewed May 2015 | Modified Nov 2022

During the 20th century, the health and life expectancy of Americans improved dramatically. Since 1900, the average life span of people in the USA has increased by 30 yr, largely attributable to advances in public health. To commemorate these advances, the CDC named the following as the Ten Great Public Health Achievements, 1900–1999: vaccination, motor vehicle safety, safer workplaces, control of infectious diseases, mortality decline from coronary heart disease and stroke, safer and healthier foods, healthier mothers and babies, family planning, fluoridation of drinking water, and recognition of tobacco as a health hazard.

To further commemorate national advances in public health and to specifically highlight the veterinary public health contribution to the overall effort, the following were named as the Ten Great Veterinary Public Health Achievements–United States, 1901–2000.

1) Eradication of animal disease: Largely attributable to national programmatic efforts involving local, state, and federal veterinarians, the following diseases were declared eliminated from animal populations within the USA: contagious pleuropneumonia (1892), fowl plague (1929), foot-and-mouth disease (1929), glanders (1934), dourine (1942), cattle tick fever (1943), vesicular exanthema of swine (1959), screwworm myiasis (1959), sheep scabies (1973), exotic Newcastle disease (1974), and classical swine fever (hog cholera, 1978).

2) Laboratory animal science: The first professor of laboratory animal science in the USA was Dr. Carl Schlotthauer, appointed in 1945 at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Charles Griffin oversaw the development of pathogen-free animal colonies at the New York State Board of Health Laboratories from 1919 to 1954. Other veterinary pioneers in laboratory animal medicine included Dr. William Thorp at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. James Steele at the CDC, and Dr. Karl Meyer at the University of California at San Francisco.

3) Infectious disease control: In 1900, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in people in the USA and commonly resulted in malformations in the bones of children. Of this disease burden, 40%–50% was reported to be bovine in origin, as the result of drinking unpasteurized milk. Constant public health (Pasteurized Milk Ordinance; FDA) and veterinary disease control (USDA eradication program) measures have eliminated this route of transmission in the USA. The early 1900s also saw the discovery of the etiologic agents for many prevalent animal diseases. Among these were African horse sickness (1900), rinderpest (1902), sheeppox (1902), rabies (1903), hog cholera (1903), and the first discovery of a viral cause of a cancer, fowl leukosis (1908). On a broader scale, the first cancer-preventing vaccines, which are to protect against Marek disease and feline leukemia virus, were developed by veterinarians and are contributing to development of human applications.

4) Livestock herd health and production optimization: Dr. C.L. Cole, who was at the North Central Experiment Station at Grand Rapids, Minnesota, was the first to demonstrate that large numbers of cows could be bred successfully by artificial insemination (1937–1938). The first calf sired by artificial insemination of frozen semen was born in 1953. A 10-year dairy production study published in the late 1940s noted that among the many benefits of annual physical examinations for dairy cattle was an average increase in milk production of 40%. More recently, widespread application of preventive medicine and environmental health best practices serve to maximize dairy cow health and comfort, all but eliminating milk as a source of foodborne illness. Moreover, annual milk production increased from 5,000 to 21,000 lb per cow.

5) Food safety (human): Although the 1904 publication of Upton Sinclair’s provocative book The Jungle led to the dismissal of Dr. Daniel E. Salmon from the fledging Bureau of Animal Industry, the resultant public furor successfully reinvigorated his mission and facilitated the promulgation of the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. Dr. Salmon’s contribution to foodborne disease control was considered so valuable that the Salmonella spp were named for him. In 1900, the first local community instituted routine microbiologic examination of milk. In 1908, Chicago required pasteurization of dairy products and, in 1948, Michigan was the first state to require milk pasteurization. In the 1920s, veterinarians also accomplished the basic work in developing the USPHS (FDA) Pasteurized Milk Ordinance and Code. Although slow to achieve industry acceptance, irradiation of food has substantial beneficial effects on the safety and quality of many foodstuffs. Previously approved for items such as spices, fruits, vegetables, and poultry, ionizing radiation was approved for use in 1999 to reduce bacterial loads on frozen raw meat and meat by-products.

6) Recognition and enhancement of the human-animal bond: Throughout recorded history, mankind has partnered and benefited from association with domesticated animals. The dairy cow is recognized as the “foster mother of the human race,” and the horse, ox, donkey, camel, water buffalo, reindeer, and yak have provided mankind with our primary transport and tractor power for thousands of years. Indeed, the histories of all animals, including people, cannot be dissociated. That symbiotic partnership, perhaps the cornerstone of veterinary medicine, became the life work of Dr. Leo Bustad, who once stated, “One cannot have a healthy community without a strong human-animal bond.” An enhanced understanding of that inextricable bond has led to relationships between people and animals, including guide dogs for the vision and hearing impaired and military working dogs and dolphins. Further, the positive physical and psychological benefits of human-animal relationships, such as the lowering of blood pressure and as companions for older, ill, and traumatized people, have been described.

7) Border inspection/surveillance: The USDA has primary responsibility for preventing the introduction or reintroduction of foreign animal diseases into the USA. The Herculean proportions of this task are exemplified by the fact that before free trade, the USA imported 1.9 million cattle, 700,000 swine, and about 28 million birds annually. Inspecting representative samples of these animals and their by-products is the direct or indirect task of USDA veterinarians. This effort has been greatly aided since 1954 by the USDA Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory on Plum Island, New York, which provides valuable research toward the prevention and control of these biologically and economically devastating diseases. Similarly, veterinarians employed by DHHS/CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Department of the Interior) oversee programs to control importation of nonhuman primates, vector species, and potentially dangerous or injurious wildlife species.

8) Surgery and medicine: Regional anesthesia via the spinal route was first introduced in the USA at the 1926 AVMA meeting. Dr. Otto Stader developed the first steel pin method for external fracture fixation. In the 1950s, Dr. H. A. Gorman developed the first prosthetic hip joint, and Dr. F. L. Earl discovered the tranquilizing effects of reserpine.

9) Uniformed services veterinary medicine: In 1916, with the establishment of the United States Army Veterinary Corps, the USA was the last of the industrialized countries to commission a corps of military veterinarians. During World War II, army veterinarians were credited with providing higher quality rations for troops, as well as more space for armaments on cargo ships by thoroughly trimming meat products and freezing them in compact containers. Dr. Robert A. Whitney, Jr. (USPHS) served as Deputy Surgeon General and later as the Acting Surgeon General in 1993. Today, veterinarians in the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Public Health Service contribute substantially to military and civilian public health missions, such as human and animal disease control, occupational health, food safety, medical research, deployment health surveillance, and biologic warfare/terrorism defense.

10) Integration with public health practitioners: Under the leadership of Dr. Karl Meyer, an early architect of veterinary public health, the Hooper Foundation of Medical Research became a leading institute for the study of comparative medicine and zoonotic diseases. Additionally, he developed the original curriculum for the University of California School of Public Health. One of the many important achievements by Dr. James H. Steele was the status elevation of veterinarians in the USPHS from sanitarians to veterinary medical officers. Dr. Calvin Schwabe’s seminal work, Veterinary Medicine and Human Health (1964), provides one of the most concrete examples of this integration.

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