photo of Bonnie Price, a faculty member of Lincoln-Memorial University and an expert on rabies and bats

Rabies Still a Worldwide Health Issue, Says Lincoln-Memorial Expert Bonnie Price

Rabies kills tens of thousands of people around the world, and Bonnie Price, an assistant professor of veterinary health science at Sullivan Foundation partner school Lincoln Memorial University (LMU), doesn’t want anyone to forget the dangers posed by the disease.

Price helps to raise awareness about rabies as part of the National One Health Commission Bat Rabies Education Team. She talks about rabies at continuing education conferences to train veterinary staff on how to educate pet owners in Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. Most recently, Price presented in February at the College of Science, Technology and Mathematics at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tennessee. Her presentation was titled “Toward the Global Eradication of Canine Rabies: Challenges and hope at the interface of human-animal medicine.”

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“Every year 50,000-60,000 humans die of rabies around the world, and outside of the U.S. it is mostly caused by canine rabies,” Price said. “The global rabies alliance has a goal to end canine rabies worldwide by 2030. This can be accomplished through widespread vaccination of dogs like we do in the U.S.”

Rabies is a deadly, yet preventable, viral disease that can be transmitted to people by infected mammals, including bats. Bats are an integral part of our ecosystem, serving important roles like pollination, seed dispersal, and eating disease-causing mosquitoes and crop-destroying insects. But they also can pose a health risk to people and pets through the transmission of the rabies virus. Not all bats have rabies, but bats are responsible for most human cases of rabies in the Americas.

this photo shows a bat looking ready to bite, although not all bats carry rabies

Not all bats carry rabies, but they’re responsible for most cases of the diseases in humans in the Americas.

Since Price’s most recent presentation, another zoonotic disease has been dominating news all over the world. “I think the link between rabies and COVID-19 is realizing we need to forge strong interdisciplinary teams to address these complex, multifactorial challenges we are seeing at the interface of humans, wildlife and domestic animals,” Price said. “Promoting strong communication skills and interdisciplinary connections is a big part of what we do in the veterinary science curriculum.”

There are strong collaborations among LMU faculty working on interdisciplinary projects in Allied Health Science, the DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine, the College of Veterinary Medicine and the School of Mathematics and Sciences.

“Over the last century, science and medicine has become more specialized,” Price said. “Often academics and physicians work in very specific fields, or silos, with little collaboration with other professionals. Rabies in the U.S. is a great example of a One Health success story.”

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Through a greater understanding of how the virus moved between and affected domestic animals, wildlife and humans, human deaths in this country were reduced to between zero and three on average each year. This requires the ongoing efforts of professionals from veterinary and human medicine as well as public health professionals, laboratory biologists, environmental scientists, wildlife experts and more.

“We can take the lessons of the U.S. canine rabies eradication and apply them to not only decreasing canine rabies worldwide, but also apply these principles of interdisciplinary collaboration to prepare for and respond to other One Health challenges, such as COVID-19,” Price said.

Price is the Chair of the Veterinary Health Science and Technology Department for the LMU School of Allied Health Science. Before training in veterinary public health, she completed her undergraduate work in anthropology and participated in primate fieldwork and conservation studies throughout Central America and West Africa. Those experiences fostered a strong commitment to culturally competent and multidisciplinary approaches to improve health and wellness at the interface of animals, humans and the environment. Her teaching includes courses such as Zoonotic Disease, Wildlife Disease and The Human Animal Bond.

She lectures for undergraduates across multiple disciplines—including pre-med, pre-vet, nursing and conservation biology—with the goal of creating interdisciplinary collaborations very early in students’ training. She is also active in mentoring student leadership groups on campus. In addition to her work with undergraduates, she lectures on food safety for the LMU-College of Veterinary Medicine. Price earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Master of Public Health degrees from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Lincoln-Memorial University website.

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