Sunday, June 12, 2005

Public Health Institute - Week Three Review

*Note - I dropped the ball on writing these things - so this one is written horribly after the fact and backdated.

Advances in Molecular Epidemiological Techniques
This was a pretty good course, though it was very much review on things that I already knew. I have a pretty strong background in molecular techniques, and I think that I was expecting this course to focus a little more on the epidemiology than the techniques. But instead I learned all about PCR, Pulse-Net, Western/Southern/Northern Blotting (well, not really Northern Blotting that much), and sequencing stuff. It was interesting to be in a room full of primarily professionals with little molecular technique experience though - the questions that were asked were from a point of view that I don't have. We were split up into groups of three, and on Friday afternoon we gave a presentation of our paper and the molecular techniques used therein. I learned a lot about Pertussis, which was kinda cool. But pulse-net is the standard, and that's what our presentation was on. This class was taught by the same guy who did Risk Assessment and Management (but not Risk Communication, oddly). He doesn't have a great reputation, but I actually found myself enjoying all three classes (when I wasn't so tired I was propping my eyes open on my coffee cup!).

Food Safety and Nutrition Law
Now this was a class that I didn't really know what to expect from, it was taught by a visiting professor from Michigan State Law School. He's written much of the Michigan food safety laws though, so he definately knows his stuff. It was taught in a strange format, and wasn't quite a science class. Because he's a lawyer and teaches in law school, he taught us as if we were law students. I'm very used to the straightforward presentation techniques used in science, so the case-based, look up laws in this giant book, here I'll read you the textbook that I wrote approaches didn't really do it for me. I learned a lot during the in class exercises, where we were actually using the information to answer questions, but the presentation itself left something to be desired. I came out of the class extremely skeptical about every food label I see, so I'd deem the class a success. The hardest part was the "project". We had the choice of either giving a group presentation (role-playing, panel style), or writing a paper (with dialogue, just like you were actually giving the panel). This being the end of the third week, I'd about had it with presentations and group work, I know that this probably makes me a bad person. I opted for the paper, and had a heck of a time writing it, but I got an A in the class, so I think that things turned out allright in the end!

GFS: Pork
Who doesn't like pork? Consider that a rhetorical question. I'm particularly a fan of ham and bacon, though pork chops have their place in my diet as well. For the Pork field trip, we went to the Hormel factory, and then to the Spam Museum. We saw the hogs from truck to Spam, and I have to say that it held several interesting, and mildly gross, experiences. We ducked under conveyer belts, saw the poor person who cuts the eyelids off of all the pigs as they come in (that may have been the absolute worst part of the experience), pushed pigs aside to walk through them, saw the assembly lines of people that trim and take apart a pig to make it into all of the pieces to which we are accustomed to buying in the grocery store. There are still certain processed foods that I'm further encouraged not to eat (sausage, Spam), but that's not because the ingredients aren't of the highest quality - just because I like my food to look more or less like it did when it was on the animal. I'm strange - I actually enjoy understanding that my food comes from an animal that died for my use. I'd rather not distance myself from the food chain - that's being irresponsible in my opinion.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Dairy Goat Farm Trip

I volunteered to go with one of the large animal hospital clinicians to a goat dairy on Saturday. We left the large animal hospital at 8am, and got to the farm about 9:45. This is a very very poorly managed farm, sadly. The owner is not very involved, instead hiring farm managers to take care of the herd. After a slew of managers over the past couple of years, the most recent one realized shortly after he was hired that it was on the verge of animal abuse. He took steps to get the vet school involved in the care and management, and is trying to set up a management system that is best for both the dairy and the goats themselves. The main sticking point is that the dairy mainly produced goat cheese, and in order to meet demand they purchase a lot of goat milk from out of state as well as use the milk produced on the farm.

It's a ~450 goat dairy, and most goats were between 1 and 4 years old. They've never had their hooves trimmed in their lives. Normal goats need their hooves trimmed between 2 and 4 times a year. In an average dairy, the pre-milking ("dry") goats would be looked at several times a year, if not monthly, and the hooves would be trimmed as need. The milking goats would be examined daily as the goats went through the milking parlor, and hooves would be trimmed as necessary. Some of the goats had horns growing back into their heads - some because they had been improperly dehorned, some simply had not ever been dehorned. Some had severe mastitis, and we selected those out for culling. Some were so emaciated that you just wanted to euthanize them right there. We processed every single goat over 1 year of age on that farm (we didn't do the kids) on Saturday. There were about 12 of us. Any goat that wasn't tagged for culling due to body condition or udder condition got its feet trimmed.

I have so many blisters on my hands that I want to cry. Every muscle and joint in my body feels like I've been hit by a truck. I wrenched my shoulder about 3:45, and had to stop, but I was still using my good arm to catch and move the goats around. Fortunatly, after a couple of hours rest my shoulder stopped hurting. Hoof trimmers are SHARP, and I have random puncture wounds all over my hands from them (4 that are infected), only one open blister (2 closed), and it hurts to clap. Some of the hooves looked like flippers, literally inches too long. Many had foot rot, and most of the hooves were deformed. Hopefully now that they're all cut down the farm can manage a maintainence program in the future. We also got them down to mostly healthy goats, which is a good place for a dairy to be. Instead of calling animal rescue, the vet school decided to work to put a management program in place and maintain a working relationship. This was the first big step.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Public Health Institute - Week Two Review

Food Safety Risk Management
Same professor as Food Safety Risk Asessment, which was both a good thing and a bad thing. Different guest speaker, which was cool. This time it was a guy from Industry giving us his perspective. We did a project on Scombrotoxin in fish, which was pretty cool. Not only did I get to learn about a new disease, but we did a management assessment on it, and mostly I learned to KEEP FISH COLD at all times. Or else you'll be a very unhappy camper. Very, very unhappy. Imagine the worst allergic reaction you've ever had and multiply it a couple of times; that's what happens when your fish is full of histamine.

Avian Influenza
This class was really awesome. We spent Tuesday learning about "people factors" and Wednesday learning about "animal factors". We had a ton of guest speakers, and I have a much better idea about the whole chain that would contribute to a pandemic. Thursday we went to the MN state labs and got cool tours. They have a lot of cool low-tech and high-tech stuff, and I wouldn't mind working there! Then we got to the cool part of the field trip - the live animal market in south St. Paul. You go in, pick out your chicken(s), buy it, slaughter it, defeather it, and process it to your liking. You leave with chickens in a bag, happy as a clam. It's SO COOL. They also sell goats, cows, pigs etc, but you don't slaughter those because of safety concerns. You buy it, they slaughter and quarter it, and you take it home in buckets. If you ask real nice they'll use their band saw to cut the bone into pork chops. I'd rather buy meat there - where you know the health of the animals before they're slaughtered, you can inspect the meat and the sanitation yourself, and then you are responsible for all of the post-slaughter processing. It strikes me as a far more transparent method than going to the grocery store and picking up a pre-packaged chicken.