Tess Van Kan, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, is a third-year student who had the opportunity to travel overseas to study and practice veterinary medicine. Last summer, Van Kan visited Thailand to study arboviral diseases, which are diseases that are spread by arthropods, but it became more than that. “The expedition turned out to really be an international effort, with scientists from many different countries coming together to gather data for a variety of different projects,” said Van Kan. “I was lucky to have the opportunity to help out with most of them, and have a very unique experience in versatility.”
Van Kan earned this opportunity through her connections within the CVM. Through her first summer at Mizzou she was involved in the Veterinary Research Scholars Program and began her own project studying tick-borne diseases. When she was in parasitology, her professor, Bill Stich, MS, PhD, mentioned knowledge gaps around ticks and their associated pathogens. This sparked Van Kan’s interest and she decided to inquire about opportunities to help. “I approached him one day after class to see if I could get involved with any of the work he was doing, or if he had any ideas that I could look into for next summer,” she said. “I expressed my interest in traveling abroad, and he just happened to have a colleague in Thailand who was organizing a field expedition for arthropod-borne disease research the next summer. The rest of the pieces came together from there.”
In Thailand, Van Kan traveled widely, living in Bankok, Pattaya, Phuket, and the rural, mountainous Nan province. While there, she assisted in a variety of different studies with different teams. “The first team I helped with was researching how human behavior affected the prevalence of arboviruses in these rural villages by interviewing villagers and exploring their homes for standing water sources and mosquito larvae. I helped look for and collect the larvae while our team leader talked to the homeowners,” she said. “This was an amazing experience for me in learning how these villagers lived and they never let us go without an armful of fresh mango or dragon fruit, even after disrupting their day.”
The second team focused on mosquitos and testing them for disease. “We set traps in the morning and evening around places like rubber plantations, backyards, domestic animal enclosures, and tropical rainforests. We also collected mosquitos by hand in the evenings with a net and mouth tube, where I was more often the bait than not,” said Van Kan. “These mosquitos were then either frozen and identified to the species level or kept in containers for later testing and colony establishment.”
Some of the other teams focused on surveying soil nematodes in flooded rice fields. “We got to tromp out along precarious terrain and play in the mud. We collected GI parasites from local fish and amphibians, which were bought from local villagers who were experts at catching them,” said Van Kan.
Not only did Van Kan conduct research, she was able to serve at a mixed animal practice. While she worked with more familiar small animals like dogs, cats, and rabbits, she also spent time with some more exotic species. “We made calls to botanical gardens and wildlife areas where I got to be involved with Asian elephants, Indian hog deer, Bengal tigers, junglefowl, southern cassowary, greater emus, hyacinth macaws, sun conures, southern river terrapins, and a variety of snakes.”
While hard at work, there was time for some personal adventures. Van Kan was able to visit Melbourne and Cairns, Australia, where she went diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
Through this experience, Van Kan says a big takeaway was the knowledge she gained about the different spectrum of public health challenges in these rural communities. “I think the lessons I learned have really encouraged me to keep an open mind and consider all angles of a problem before trying to find a solution.”
by Nick Childress