A Call to Veterinarians: Educate Immunosuppressed Clients

American Animal Hospital Association – December 31, 2003

Veterinarians, veterinary technicians and support staff are in unique positions to educate clients about zoonotic disease transmission from pets to immunosuppressed people, said Caroline Schaffer, DVM, and director of the Center for the Study of Human-Animal Interdependent Relationships at Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Ala.

“Because veterinarians are the experts on zoonotic disease life cycles and transmission, I believe it is incumbent upon us to accept our role in preserving and strengthening the priceless relationship between people and animals,” Schaffer said. Yet many healthcare professionals and well-meaning friends perpetuate myths that immunosuppressed people and those with HIV/AIDS should get rid of their pets, she said. “It is so sad when misinformation prevents people from having the joy and the strength they can find from interacting with a pet who matches their physical, emotional and economic needs.”

Schaffer recently lectured at Cornell University on the topic of HIV/AIDS and pet ownership in an effort to encourage veterinarians to take an active role in the health of their clients and their clients’ pets. Her main message is “to change what health care providers say to cancer patients, diabetics, transplant recipients, parents of infants, pregnant women, [the]elderly, people on immunosuppressive medications and [those]living with HIV,” Schaffer said. “Instead of saying, ‘If you are immunosuppressed get rid of your pet,’ I want them to say, ‘If you are immunosuppressed see your veterinarian.’”

The center’s main goal is to partner with veterinary professionals to promote mutually beneficial relationships between pets and people. In addition to lectures, Schaffer helped develop and distribute 45,000 copies of an educational brochure for veterinarians’ waiting rooms. It explains that immunosuppressed individuals can talk confidentially with veterinarians to ensure that pets get appropriate screenings and healthcare for the client’s immune status, which will ultimately keep them together.

Other organizations that promote the benefits of the animal-human bond include the Delta Society,PAWSitive InterAction, and CENSHARE.


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