One Health in Practice: Human Diagnostic Testing at the WVDL

Aug 26 | News, Research

By Dr. Keith Poulsen, Director, Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory

As clinicians, we all understand that the two major components to controlling an epidemic outbreak of an infectious disease are quality diagnostic tests and tools to help control the outbreak. Tools can be a quarantine, a vaccine, an antibiotic, or cleaning and sanitation. How do we know the tools we deploy work? We repeat diagnostics and look for improvements in morbidity and mortality rates.

As veterinarians, we are no strangers to the fact that we do not always have diagnostics and our toolbox can be limited due to finances, lack of testing availability, regulatory issues or buy-in from animal owners. Translating the basics of infectious disease control to the current global COVID-19 pandemic, we should not be surprised that we have not been able to stay ahead of the virus. Accurate diagnostic testing has been slow to develop and deploy effectively, we do not have a vaccine yet, Costco has been out of disinfecting wipes since March, and the politics and public perceptions of
COVID-19 are a dumpster fire.

Because reliable testing performed in a high-throughput setting is critical, the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (WVDL) is developing a dedicated diagnostic facility for human COVID-19 testing in collaboration with the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene (WSLH) and the University of Wisconsin (UW) Biotechnology Center. Our mission is to provide a dedicated testing laboratory for UW-Madison. We are also in development to assist in a national effort for K-12 student testing.

How does this affect WVDL’s daily work for Wisconsin veterinarians and Wisconsin agriculture?

The short answer is very little. We are working with our established infrastructure and adding automation equipment and temporary staff to  accomplish this testing. Developing this testing in collaboration with WSLH on a short timeline has been a monumental task to establish in our veterinary laboratory, so some projects and development will be delayed, but day-to-day veterinary testing is running normally.

How is this being funded?

No taxpayer or program revenue of the WVDL will be used for this diagnostic testing laboratory. UW-Madison has provided new equipment and will be paying for consumables and temporary labor for this dedicated team. Testing could, and likely will, change over the next 12 months and we will be ready to adapt to make sure the investment continues be effective for UW-Madison and the UW System.

What is the benefit to a veterinary laboratory to help a human pandemic?

The WVDL is a State of Wisconsin Agency and part of UW-Madison. UW-Madison has a $15 billion-dollar annual impact on our state’s economy, which equates to $24 returned for every $1 invested. By assisting in this effort, we are supporting this positive driving economic force for Wisconsin.

This work is also in the true spirit and intent of the One Health philosophy. Our staff are integrated into setup and day-to-day function of this testing in collaboration with our human health partners. The new technological knowledge and experience gained will be immediately applied to improving our mission-critical work and better prepare us to keep Wisconsin agriculture moving during the next foreign animal disease outbreak; they happen more often than you would think.

Our team’s work at the WVDL is specific and targeted to help in the COVID-19 response. We know that there are many different opinions and theories out there of what will work best, but we will not know for sure until we start trying.

How else do you think your practice and the WVMA can help Wisconsin beat COVID-19?