At the moment, there is one disease in particular that is of concern to Campbell. Ehrlichiosis, or E. canis, is a deadly dog disease that is transmitted through the bite of the brown dog tick.
E. canis occurs worldwide, but it was not diagnosed within Australia until last year. It was originally detected in Western Australia and has since spread to the Northern Territory and South Australia. More recently, a dog in Queensland tested positive for the disease after travelling through WA and the NT.
Outback and Airborne are working to control the spread of E. canis across Australia, but Campbell says more public awareness of the disease is crucial.
“We’ve been dealing with this disease for less than 12 months, and it’s already spread across the entirety of the Northern Territory. That’s an area twice the size of France! It takes longer for a human fetus to develop. This disease, it’s just exploded,” he says.
“All it takes is tourists travelling across the country with their dog in their caravan to unknowingly break the law and spread the disease, and it’s because there’s just no awareness.”
E. canis is characterized by fever, swollen lymph nodes, respiratory distress, decreased appetite and weight loss. It attacks bone marrow, which hinders a dog’s ability to form blood clots and as a result can lead to uncontrollable bleeding.
“When it was first observed during the Vietnam War, the Americans bomb dogs were becoming very sick and dying. Vets and doctors were looking at it, and they were saying it looked like radiation sickness. Thankfully, after some blood work, they eventually diagnosed it as bacteria. But that’s the severity of this disease,” Campbell says.
“When I was working in Arnhem Land last year we had maybe 700 dogs in the community, and now that would be less than 100. 70 per cent would die post-surgery.”
Campbell says that common tick prevention methods, such as chewable tablets, do not offer enough protection from E. canis on their own.
“Monthly Nexgard or Bravecto tablets only offer about 70 per cent protection. These tablets need to be combined with a repellent therapy, like a Seresto tick collar – changed every four months – or a monthly application of Advantix,” he says. “This combination gives about 98 per cent protection.”
E. canis is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be spread to humans through the bite of a tick. When it comes to facing difficult situations like these, Campbell says he is grateful for his time at JCU.
“When I was at James Cook University they did bang home about zoonotic and exotic diseases with their focus on tropical Australia. It’s one of the most northern vet colleges in Australia so it’s producing vets that will be on the frontlines of these kinds of issues,” he says.
“JCU gives students a great introduction to regional and mixed animal medicine and a realistic taste of a variety of vet roles. If you’re considering a career in regional or bush veterinary medicine, it’s hands down the best; it prepared me for that, and has a great network of alumni that will help students into that field as well.”
Dr Campbell Costello