Microbe hunter goes after coyotes looking for Tularemia

BY KEVIN WOODRUFF (Times-Shamrock Writer)
Published: February 9, 2010

thedailyreview.com:  When the District 9 Pennsylvania Trappers Association Coyote Hunt came to town last weekend, it was a big deal for U.S. Department of Agriculture Disease Biologist Kyle Van Why.  Forget the lure of hunting an elusive wild dog.  Van Why is more interested in hunting through the animals’ innards.  He’s a microbe hunter in his second year of spending time in Tunkhannock, this year testing for the disease Tularemia, which is a bacterial infection that affects coyotes.  His research is a part of a surveillance program run through the USDA that tracks the disease.

Pennsylvania for the first time this year is included in the program, and Van Why was looking to see if Tularemia is common in coyotes.  “It’s a disease that is carried by rabbits and mice,” Van Why said. “And since coyotes eat rabbits and mice, it’s a great way to see if the disease is present in the animal.”  In addition to his research on Tularemia, Van Why will be supplying data to two graduate students, one from East Stroudsburg University, and another from the University of Pittsburgh.  “It’s a component of how my position is set up,” Van Why said. “In addition to collecting data for the USDA, I also help others with their research.”

At the coyote hunt, Van Why was collecting blood, hearts, spleens and intestines of the animals, based on compliance from the hunters.  “It’s all voluntary,” Van Why said. “All the hunters have to agree for me to take samples.”  He said that most hunters are very responsive to his requests, and are interested in helping him further his research.  “I get a lot of positive responses,” Van Why said. “Most let me take blood, but some want their animals intact so they can be mounted.”

He said that around 60 percent of hunters will let him take organs.  “Hunters are usually interested because in the end it will benefit them,” Van Why said.  It will benefit hunters, as Tularemia is transmittable to humans.  “If we find that it is common in the coyotes, then we can alert area hospitals,” Van Why said. “Because sometimes they come up with mysterious cases, and it may help them in their diagnosis.”  While Tularemia is more common in western states, Van Why said that it is important to know if it is present in Pennsylvania.  One main benefit for Van Why to attend coyote hunts is to have a large sample of specimens available to him at once.  “It’s easier than trying to track down animals that are scattered,” Van Why said. “And I also get to talk with a lot of sportsmen and make contacts for the future.”  He considers Tunkhannock’s hunt to be moderately sized, bringing in just under 60 coyotes this year, with the largest hunt in the state being 170.


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