Contact: Allison Matthews
STARKVILLE, Miss.—Two Mississippi State professors in the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine are reaching out to students around the world who want to learn about their specialized field of epidemiology.
Drs. David R. Smith and Robert W. Wills recently traveled to China to teach a two-week, two-credit-hour course funded by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
“There is a need for training Chinese veterinarians in epidemiology,” Smith said. Epidemiology is the branch of medicine dealing with the incidence and prevalence of disease in large populations and with detection of the sources and cause of epidemics of infectious disease. It’s also commonly referred to as studying “herd health.”
Both faculty members also travelled to the country last year under a cooperative arrangement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service and the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture.
“There are some diseases of animals that are important to the economy of farming in the U.S. or to public health. Influenza is a really important one,” said Smith, the Mikell and Mary Cheek Hall Davis Endowed Professor at MSU, who also explained that managing disease is an important issue around the world.
“There are some diseases that we’ve managed to control in the U.S. that are still problems in China and in other Asian countries, and the USDA believes that identifying and controlling particular diseases in these countries helps protect animal and public health in the U.S.,” Smith said. Interestingly, epidemiology is not taught as part of regular veterinary training in China, he added.
“There is wide recognition of the value for veterinary epidemiology training in China to improve the safety of food, improve the well-being of animals by preventing diseases, and protecting public health by reducing human exposure to zoonotic diseases,” Smith said.
Smith and Wills hope to see the new relationships formed with the Chinese continue to grow. Their students were graduates of veterinary schools in China who are now doing additional graduate work through the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
“The students were very excited to visit with us and to speak English. They were full of questions and very positive about interacting with Americans. They also were very attentive to the course,” Smith said.
In addition to the nearly 40 students officially enrolled in the class, more students not earning credit also sat in to learn from the MSU visiting faculty members.
Smith and Wills have a few long-term goals for the Chinese teaching project.
“We hope to go back again, and it sounds like the Chinese are interested in having us do that. We also would like to have some of the good students come here and spend some time doing graduate research at Mississippi State,” Smith said.
“Maybe they would return to China and become teachers. The idea is that we are training the trainers of epidemiology in the future,” he said.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.