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Working with the medical profession

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TRADITIONALLY, human medicine and veterinary medicine tend to be viewed separately. Doctors treat people, and vets look after animals. There are, of course, differences between the two types of patients and options for treatment. Euthanasia, for example, tends not to be looked on favourably in the human field, whereas in veterinary medicine there are times when it might be the best approach. Similarly, culling infected individuals or those suspected of being infected is not an option for controlling an outbreak of infectious disease in humans, but can play an integral part in dealing with disease outbreaks in animals. Doctors usually have the advantage over vets that they can talk to their patients; for vets, life would be so much easier if their patients could talk.

Despite the differences between the veterinary and medical professions, they have a common interest in many diseases and share many challenges. Vets and doctors are having to work together more and more. Concerns about avian influenza and fears that it could be the harbinger of a human pandemic provide one example of why medical and veterinary activity need to be integrated (see p 495 of this issue); control of foodborne zoonoses provides another and requires coordinated effort from the kitchen back to the farm.

Without adequate safeguards, diseases of people and animals can now move more quickly around the world. Research expertise needs to be combined, and controls and contingency plans must be drawn up in tandem, whether the disease threat is natural, as with SARS, or caused by humans, as in a potential bioterrorist attack. Antimicrobial resistance presents challenges to doctors and vets alike and provides another example of where a joint approach is needed.

With increasing urbanisation, it is easy to forget the extent to which people depend on animals. In parts of the developing world many people rely on animals for food and transport – and the health of those animals can mean the difference between life and death.

Closer to home, animals are important economically and also as a source of companionship. Half of all households in the United Kingdom own a pet: for many people, companion animals are just as important as a family member or friend, sometimes more, and the same level of health care is expected. The cost of treatment and subsequent quality of life is an issue in the veterinary as well as the medical field and similar dilemmas arise.

Not all doctors may fully appreciate the importance of the relationship between owners and their animals. This may be relevant when, for example, they advise immunocompromised patients of any risk from their pet, or consider the implications of taking an elderly person into care in an environment where animals are banned. Doctors and vets have a lot to learn from each other, and there is much to be gained from a joint approach. A project aimed at preventing dog bites in children, discussed on p 499 of this issue, grew from a collaboration between a veterinary practitioner and hospital paediatricians* and provides one example of what working together can achieve.

The Veterinary Record and the British Medical Journal (BMJ) plan simultaneous publication of theme issues exploring how the two professions can collaborate for mutual benefit. We would like to cover topics such as the investigation and control of infectious diseases; zoonoses; medical and veterinary education; professional regulation; and issues related to companion animal ownership and human health. The theme issues will be published in November 2005, and the intention is that they should be a mix of comment, original research papers and reviews. We would like to invite ideas for articles as well as original research papers relevant to both disciplines. The deadline for submissions of original research is May 30, 2005.

An editorial similar to this one appears in this week’s issue of the BMJ (vol 330, pp 858- 859). Plans to publish simultaneous theme issues in November in themselves represent a form of veterinary/medical collaboration and it is hoped that, between them, the two issues will give an indication of what is currently being done and whether more could be achieved in the future.

Contacts for the BMJ/Veterinary Record simultaneous theme issues on human and veterinary medicine

The Veterinary Record – Martin Alder (editorial{at}

BMJ – Graham Easton (geaston{at}


  • * KAHN, A., BAUCHE, P., LAMOUREUX, J. & Dog Bites Research Team (2003) Child victims of dog bites treated in emergency departments: a prospective study. European Journal of Pediatrics 162, 254-258

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