Student takes closer look at blastomycosis

Susan Mehain and Sandy

Third-year veterinary student Susan Mehain and her dog Sandy. Photo: Robyn Thrasher.

With a strong interest in internal medicine, Susan Mehain of North Vancouver, B.C., has been thoroughly enjoying her experience at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).

“It’s great to meet other students who share your interests,” says the veterinary student. “And the opportunity to be around some remarkable clinicians and researchers here is really amazing.”

One of Mehain’s favourite subjects in the college’s curriculum is clinical pathology, a case-based course that centres on blood analysis.

“It’s like doing a puzzle. It’s a challenge, but it’s very rewarding to reach the end of a case and have a diagnosis,” says Mehain, who spends her free time at the dog park with her three-legged companion, Sandy.

Now going into her third year, Mehain is spending her summer working at the WCVM on a research project with Dr. Elisabeth Snead, an associate professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences.

“This summer, I wanted to try something different,” says Mehain. “I’ve always worked in a veterinary clinic during my break. I’ve never had the chance to be involved in the research side of things.”

Mehain’s project focuses on blastomycosis, a type of fungal infection that commonly affects the lungs of dogs.

“I’ll be reviewing cases presented to the WCVM’s Veterinary Medical Centre. My goal is to determine any associations between lung patterns seen on an X-ray and other factors such as geographical location or clinical signs.”

According to Mehain, blastomycosis is seen in certain endemic areas, including regions of Saskatchewan. This study may help veterinarians to establish a prognosis and a  course of treatment for patients afflicted with this disease.

“Also, we hope the data collected will allow pet owners to be better equipped to make decisions regarding the care of their pets,” says Mehain.

Learning about the various aspects of a single disease has been one of the highlights of Mehain’s research so far.

“Although my project revolves around the lung patterns associated with blastomycosis in dogs, I’ve learned so much about its epidemiology, the manifestations of the disease elsewhere in the body, treatment, human infections and other interesting facts,” she says.

Excited about the opportunity to learn and meet new people, Mehain has found her summer research experience very worthwhile.

“At first it seems overwhelming, but as the pieces start to come together, it makes more sense and gets more exciting,” she says. “Most importantly, I find that doing research gives you a chance to see the other side of the college, outside the classroom.”


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