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Veterinary student assists during human flu outbreak
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Instead of the typical veterinary internship, one Mississippi State University student joined a human influenza response team during the severe 2003-04 flu season.
Dr. Brittany Baughman originally planned to work with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studying diseases that are zoonotic, or pass between humans and animals. But when the unusually severe flu season hit, that branch of the CDC needed extra help with an in-depth study of influenza deaths in children.
"This experience was very valuable to me because you learn more participating in a real situation than a hypothetical one," said Baughman, a dual-degree master's student majoring in wildlife population medicine at MSU's College of Veterinary Medicine.
The 26-year-old veterinarian received her bachelor's degree from MSU in animal and dairy science in 2000 and a doctorate in veterinary medicine in May 2003. She expects to receive her master's in veterinary medicine this year.
Although her work with the CDC, located in Atlanta, involved human disease, Baughman said the experience was applicable to her future career in wildlife epidemiology.
"Wildlife medicine involves studying diseases in populations of wildlife," Baughman explained. "During my internship, I was studying a disease in populations -- it just happened to be human populations."
Baughman coordinated the influenza response team's hotline and e-mail response systems, served as the point of first contact for medical professionals, and fielded questions from doctors and the public. She also established a unified system to track more than 200 cases and independently investigated nine cases in South Carolina and Maryland.
"Brittany assisted the team in responding to a Congressional request to confirm death cases with states," wrote CDC medical epidemiologist Dr. David K. Shay in a letter to Baughman's adviser, Dr. S.W. Jack. This information was published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
"By improving team efficiency, she also helped the team better prepare to present findings to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at its February 2004 meeting," Shay continued. "Information learned from this investigation is expected to help guide future (advisory committee) pediatric influenza immunization recommendations."
The 9-year-old dual-degree program at MSU's veterinary college allows students to earn a doctorate in veterinary medicine, as well as a master's degree in a chosen field. The first two-and-a-half years are the same for all veterinary students. But during the spring of their third year, dual-degree students begin taking graduate courses.
"The flexibility in our third and fourth years allows students to focus their studies," said Jack, who is a professor in the pathobiology and population medicine department and coordinator for the program. "Most students take externships or advanced studies; dual-degree students take graduate courses."
During their fifth year of study, dual-degree students complete a series of three- to six-week internships with various agencies.
"It takes a pretty sizable commitment for a student to stay in school an extra year," Jack said. "These students effectively go to school straight through from the fall of their sophomore year for the next four years. They don't have summer breaks."
Now in her fifth year, the Cleveland native has worked with veterinarians across the country on various disease outbreaks. Baughman worked with U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarians in Southern California on the Exotic Newcastle Disease outbreak in poultry. She also completed an internship with the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in Athens, Ga., and traveled to Laramie, Wyo., to work with Wyoming State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory veterinarians on Chronic Wasting Disease of deer and elk.
After her three-week stint with the CDC in Atlanta, Baughman spent three weeks in Maine studying cases of colitis, an infection that can be contracted by hospital patients.
Contact: Dr. S.W. Jack, (662) 325-1311