About State Public Health Veterinarians

State Public Health Veterinarians (SPHV) work for the state health department, whereas the "state veterinarian" (SV) works for the state agriculture department. SPHVs generally work in zoonotic disease control and prevention – diseases transmitted from animals to people, while SVs primarily target livestock diseases (some of which can be zoonotic) and their activities may sometimes be considered to concentrate on benefits and protection to livestock and the livestock industry. SPHVs focus on protecting public health, and, as an example, over 70 public health veterinarians are employed at CDC.

Public health veterinarians in state health departments are usually housed in Epidemiology, but may be employed by the Toxicology or Environmental divisions in health departments. Public health veterinarians are employed in many agencies: all university Colleges of Veterinary Medicine employ pulic health veterinarians; meat and poultry inspection (USDA/FSIS or state) has traditionally been supervised by public health veterinarians, and there is an American Association of Food Hygiene Veterinarians. FDA has several veterinarians active in public health work; CVM is an example and the monthly newsletter is called The FDA Veterinarian. Evaluation and approval of drugs (FDA) and biologicals (USDA) for animals depends on public health veterinarians. Public health veterinarians at the National Center for Environmental Health are involved in analyzing the effects of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) on the public health; there are hundreds of public health veterinarians in the military directing programs from sanitation to food safety to bioterrorism to emerging infectious diseases.

Much of the current knowledge on antimicrobial resistance is the result of public health veterinarians; there are over 150 zoonotic diseases in the U.S., and public health veterinarians are on the front lines daily, investigating outbreaks of E. coli 0157, cryptosporidiosis, pfiesteria, Salmonellosis, West Nile Virus, Lyme disease, rabies, etc. As the only professionals in many health departments with knowledge and training in parasites, vectors, and hosts of zoonotic diseases, public health veterinarians often end up acting as the vector control coordinator for those diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks, and other arthropods. Many animal control and animal welfare agencies around the country are managed by public health veterinarians, because of the impact of animal bites or exposures. Guidelines for animals in schools, health care facilities, and as service and therapy animals are prepared by public health veterinarians; university and industry researchers employ public health veterinarians and many of them investigate occupational health problems; public health veterinarians compose national and international recommendations such as the Rabies Compendium and Psittacosis Compendium; animal diagnostic laboratories utilize the expertise of public health veterinarians.

Board certification for public health veterinarians is mainly governed by the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, but many other public health veterinarians are board-certified as parasitologists, pathologists, in laboratory animal medicine and other disciplines within the profession. There is also an American Association of Public Health Veterinarians, American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians, and the Alliance of Veterinarians for the Environment that address public health concerns. Since there were still 12 states in the U.S. in 2000 without a designated SPHV, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) both passed position statements and resolutions in 1999 to ask the governors and state health officers of each state to ensure that a SPHV is appointed.

State public health veterinarians are the local and state professionals who regularly consult with physicians, emergency rooms, legislators, local officials, schools, health departments, and the general public on preventing exposures to and controlling diseases that humans can get from animals and animal products. Many SPHVs are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and have singular authority in the state on rabies exposures. No list of local or state officials can be considered complete without the SPHV and local public health veterinarians.

In response to an inquiry on what distinguishes a state public health veterinarian.
Edited and reprinted with permission of Dr. William B. Johnston.