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Question: at 31 years old kevin was ecstatic when he heard...

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At 31 years old, Kevin was ecstatic when he heard the news that his non-profit organization had just received grant funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The organization, named Bringing Our Villages Important Nutritional Expertise, or Project B.O.V.I.N.E. for short, specializes in providing assistance and infrastructure to rural villages in Sub-Saharan Africa to raise domesticated animal species. Kevin, who had spent his youth on his family’s cattle farm in Kansas, was a strong believer that keeping domesticated animals such as goats, cows, and sheep was a great way for people to be self-sufficient and provide for themselves and their communities. His organization would provide educational assistance to the villages in the form of training to breed, care for, and even humanely slaughter the animals they kept. Now that the organization was funded, he could finally begin this work that he had dreamt of his entire life.

Six months later, Kevin was stepping out of a jeep that had driven him into a small village just an hour drive northeast of Nairobi, Kenya. This was the first village that Project B.O.V.I.N.E. had initiated into its program, and Kevin was eager to see how it was progressing. Kevin’s organization had helped the village obtain a dozen cattle at the end of the previous year, and they had completed construction on a large barn near the edge of the pasture just two months prior.

It was mid-March on the day Kevin arrived in the village, and the weather was warm and humid. He was glad to have missed the heavy rains the week prior, but knew that the wet season in Kenya would continue on for a couple months. Upon arriving to the village, he was disheartened to hear from an employee of his organization that a couple of the cattle had fallen ill about a month earlier. “One of them was pregnant,” the employee told him. “But she lost the calf a couple days after she got really sick.” Kevin decided that he wanted to check it out himself. If necessary, he would call his friend Hamadi who was a seasoned veterinarian in Nairobi and ask him for advice.

As Kevin and his employee walked through the pasture towards the cattle, swatting away the mosquitos buzzing around them that were ubiquitous in the village at this time of the year. As they approached, Kevin could see that two of the cattle were laying on the ground, looking exceptionally thin, salivating heavily, and seemingly unable to move. As Kevin moved toward one of them his employee stopped him. “You’d better not get too close,” he cautioned. “In the past few weeks a handful of the villagers who frequent the farm have gotten ill, including two of them who slaughtered one of the sick cattle about a week and a half ago. We were so concerned we burned the carcass, despite the protests of wastefulness from a few village residents.”

Kevin took this advice quite seriously, and decided he definitely needed to call Hamadi. Luckily, the veterinarian was available and two days later was able to travel to the village to examine the animals himself. He said that both animals had a fever, although he couldn’t be sure of the pathogenic agent until he was able to do some laboratory testing. He said that he was nagged by a feeling that he remembered something similar happening in the past, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He collected blood, saliva, stool samples from the cattle and returned to Nairobi.

Just three days later, Kevin himself woke up with a fever of 102 degrees, severe muscle and joint aches, and waves of nausea. “Oh man,” he thought. “But I didn’t even get close enough to touch one of them!” By this time he had begun to hear stories of more illnesses spreading throughout the village, one case of which culminated in an older village resident going completely delirious! He decided to contact a doctor before things got any worse, and had his friend make the hour drive with him to Nairobi to see the doctor the next morning.

After his examination, Kevin explained to the doctor the circumstances with the sick cattle, as well as the illnesses spreading throughout the village, the doctor seemed to become increasingly concerned. “Well, Kevin, we can’t be certain what is happening here without additional testing. Let’s collect some blood from you today, and I will send you home with some medication to relieve your pain and discomfort. Chances are you will be OK, but if you notice any worsening of your symptoms, you need to call the hospital and make another appointment to see me right away. I will call you in just a few days to let you know what we find from the blood test.”

Before heading back to the village, Kevin decided to take a quick detour and stop by Hamadi’s veterinary clinic to see if he’d made any progress diagnosis the cattle’s illness. Hamadi informed him that bacterial and fungal growth tests were negative, but he was able to positively identify the pathogen by performing reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs). He also handed Kevin a Styrofoam container with few frozen vials on dry ice and instructed him to have his staff thaw and inject the solution into the cattle to protect them from this illness in the future. Just before Kevin walked out the door to head back to the village, Hamadi stopped him and said, “Oh, and one last thing. When you get back to the village, do your best to instruct the residents and anyone who goes near the cattle farm to put on a ton of mosquito repellent before they head out, at least for the next couple months before the dry season. And I finally remembered why this seemed familiar to me...when I first started my practice in 1950, we had over 100,000 sheep drop dead of this ailment that season.”

Question 1: What is the pathogen that is causing this illness? Is there a common name for this illness? What type of microbe is this pathogen?

Question 2: Why does Hamadi tell Kevin to instruct the village residents to wear lots of bug repellent? How does this relate to the time of year in which Kevin is visiting Kenya?

Question 3: What is in the vial that Hamadi has given to Kevin? How will this help protect the cattle?

Question 4: Kevin came into contact with several hospital employees including the doctor while he was still symptomatic. Are these people at risk of contracting this disease?

Question 5: Why does Kevin’s doctor seem concerned about worsening symptoms? What kinds of severe symptoms can this disease cause?

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