Pathobiology | Research News

Advancing Health by the Numbers

[Agrawal, Varga, Yudhanto]

As a veterinary epidemiologist, Dr. Csaba Varga is used to dealing with large data sets. But whether he is analyzing how location affects the risk of people getting a foodborne disease in a city or what pathogens are prevalent in urban backyard poultry flocks, he says all his research converges on the number “one.”

“The ‘One Health’ philosophy drives my research, meaning that identifying risk factors in one species or geographic area will ultimately improve the health of all people, animals, and the environment,” he says. “Ultimately, all species on earth are interconnected.”

Antibiotic Resistance in Pathogens from Dogs

A study that will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians later this month illustrates the One Health concept.

Collaborating with Drs. Chien-Che Hung and Carol Maddox faculty in the University of Illinois Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Dr. Varga and Dr. Setyo Yudhanto, a Ph.D. student in his lab, retrospectively evaluated two years’ worth of urine samples—more than 1,000—from dogs with suspected urinary tract infections. They isolated bacterial pathogens to find which were most prevalent and to look for their antimicrobial resistance determinants.

“By revealing trends in pathogens and their susceptibility to antimicrobials, our findings can guide veterinarians in selecting appropriate treatment for urinary tract infections in dogs,” says Dr. Varga.

“To treat recurring infections, veterinarians should consider sending the sample to the lab to determine resistance. Then they can select an effective antibiotic rather than prescribing a drug to which pathogens are developing resistance.”

People Impacted by Pet Health

Dr. Varga points out the One Health applications of the study, too: “Knowing which drugs are losing their effectiveness in certain pathogens can benefit not only the patients of small animal veterinarians but also the human population in the region,” he says.

“Pets live with people, some of whom may be immunocompromised because of age or illness. Pathogens can pass from pets to people. By choosing an antibiotic that is effective against the strain of bacteria, veterinarians can help prevent the development of antimicrobial resistance, which leads to the loss of effective drugs and the need to use more expensive drugs that retain effectiveness.”

Dr. Yudhanto received a Bacteriology Bemis Microbiology travel award from the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians to present these findings at the annual meeting in Denver, Colorado.

More About Dr. Varga’s Lab and Background

Dr. Isha Agrawal, another Ph.D. student in the Varga lab, has USDA funding to conduct research that will benefit the health and productivity of swine farms in Illinois. She will survey Illinois swine producers and their veterinarians about biosecurity practices and knowledge of foreign and endemic animal diseases. Findings will help prevent a disease outbreak and to improve readiness to respond in the event such an outbreak occurs.

(In the photo above, Dr. Agrawal, Dr. Varga, and Dr. Yudhanto stand outside the Veterinary Medicine Basic Sciences Building in Urbana, Ill.)

Dr. Varga earned his veterinary degree and a master’s degree in applied veterinary epidemiology in his native Romania. He later completed a second master’s degree and Ph.D. degree in population medicine at the University of Guelph, Ontario Veterinary College, in Canada. He is also a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine.

Dr. Varga joined the University of Illinois Pathobiology Department as an assistant professor of infectious disease epidemiology in 2019. He previously spent eight years as the lead veterinarian in the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture. In that role, he focused on poultry disease prevention and control.