Youth animal science: Virology and bacteriology

Take a deeper look at the science involved in animal production by exploring virology and bacteriology.

Youth explore pathogens through the Animal Science Anywhere lesson, “What is a Pathogen?” Photo: Cheboygan County 4-H
Youth explore pathogens through the Animal Science Anywhere lesson, “What is a Pathogen?” Photo: Cheboygan County 4-H

As learned in “Showcasing the science in ‘animal science’,” youth are using science in all aspects of raising animals. Anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, chemistry, ethology (study of behavior), virology (study of viruses), bacteriology (study of bacteria), endocrinology (study of hormones) and many more scientific fields play a large role in animal production.

With the adoption of the National Research Council’s report, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education,” Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H are working to increase science literacy through the inclusion of the Scientific and Engineering Practices described in the framework. These eight practices help guide youth through thinking about science while making the subject a little less intimidating. There are numerous MSU Extension news articles to help youth succeed in science and see it more in their everyday lives.

This article series will look more closely into the science that is inherently part of every 4-H animal project, breaking it down into five major areas including virology and bacteriology. Additional articles cover anatomy and physiology, biochemistry and chemistry, ethology and endocrinology.

When looking at the large picture of animal production, major considerations should be paid to human and animal health. Youth are doing this by using recommended practices to keep humans and animals safe and healthy. For all species, the study of viruses and bacteria becomes increasingly important as disease continues to evolve and change. Although preventive medicines such as vaccinations can prevent many disease concerns for humans and animals, they cannot prevent every illness. One particular concern is zoonotic diseases, which are diseases animals and humans can share. Youth should take additional steps to keep themselves and their animals healthy.

Youth raising and caring for animals strive to prevent diseases. Prevention strategies include properly caring for animals to ensure their needs are met by providing clean, fresh water and a nutritious diet for their animals. Additionally, maintaining a clean environment with fresh bedding or rotating pastures (depending on the species and time of year) is a proactive way to prevent disease. Youth can continue to implement proper animal health care techniques by keeping animals up to date on vaccinations and other health requirements.

If animals do become ill, youth experience a closer look at bacteriology and virology. This usually involves contacting the veterinarian and maintaining a veterinarian-client-patient relationship. Just like humans will go to the doctor when they are ill, veterinarians are contacted when animals need to be treated. Through these rare experiences, youth will often have the opportunity to learn from their veterinarian and practice additional skills, such as giving an injection.

Resources exist to help improve youth awareness and understanding related to the possibilities of zoonotic disease transmission, and motivating them to take precautions is an important life skill in personal safety and disease prevention. Currently, Michigan is working with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists on a federal grant to increase awareness and prevention strategies for youth engaged in animal production. Three new, free resources will be added to the collection of Animal Science Anywhere lessons that will be posted online and distributed to club leaders. Presently, there are five lessons available online designed specifically for 4-H youth:

  1. Biosecurity Activity: Basics of Biosecurity
  2. Pathogen Activity: What Is a Pathogen?
  3. Diseases that Animals and Humans Share: The Words You Need to Know
  4. Building on Biosecurity: Reducing the Risk
  5. Livestock Injection Methods and Placement

Stay tuned for more resources coming this fall! 

Other articles in this series:

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