Funding sought to continue vet unit


By Antonio Ramirez
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, September 05, 2013

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W uring the fiscal year 2014 budget session, the Navajo Nation Council will determine whether or not to maintain funding necessary to operate a veterinary mobile unit owned by the Foreign Animal Disease Task Force.

The 20th Navajo Nation Council established the FAD Task Force in 2006 to address serious concerns regarding contagious animal diseases.

Of the diseases the FAD Task Force is clashing with is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever - a "fast-acting" disease that can be transmitted to humans.

The Rickettsia rickettsia bacterium that causes RMSF has the potential to proliferate on reservations as it is found in ticks, including the brown dog tick commonly found on canines. RMSF is transmitted through tick bites, not dog bites.

According to Glenda Davis, who heads the tribe's Veterinary and Livestock Program, people infected by RMSF have health issues for the rest of their lives. If left untreated, the disease can kill a person within 8 days, and it resembles the common cold. To test a person for RMSF physicians must take two separate blood samples, which at times can prove challenging.

As part of a preemptive initiative to prevent the spread of RMSF on the Navajo Nation, the FAD task force invested in the veterinary mobile unit this year.

The roughly $173,000 unit is described as a "surgical suite on wheels" by Davis, who attended the budget session on Tuesday to advocate for the unit.

As of press time, the Council had not yet begun to review the budget as a result of delays regarding quorum and audit information discrepancies. Funding for the unit is currently set to run out on the 30th of this month.

Since 2012, the unit has traveled to 19 communities of the Navajo Nation, and it has provided various services including vaccination shots, flea dips, and animal blood draws along with low-cost spay and neuter operations.

Those traveling with the unit have tested 337 dogs for RMSF and found that 54 were positive. Each of the dogs infected with RMSF was treated by the volunteer veterinarians and employees in the unit and is now considered relatively healthy.

More than 1,076 dogs have been vaccinated over the past year, and 312 dogs have been spayed or neutered.

Davis said that the purpose of spaying and neutering is to gradually decrease the roaming and stray dog population on the reservation.

Since 2003, there have been over 250 human cases and 19 deaths because of RMSF. The disease has affected tribes including the Apache, the Tohono O'odham, and the Hopi.

"While there have been no deaths so far [on the Navajo Nation], there have been cases," said Davis.

The unit is scheduled to visit six more sites - Shiprock, St. Michaels, Tuba City, Kayenta, Crownpoint, and Chinle - by September 30th when the funding runs out. Shiprock was the community with the highest number of dogs testing RMSF-positive, 14 total, and as a result the veterinary mobile unit will make another trip to the community.

Davis said, "The disease is still here and it is a public threat."