The mission of the National Wildlife Center (NWHC) is to provide national leadership to safeguard wildlife and ecosystem health through dynamic partnerships and exceptional science. 

The NWHC provides information, technical assistance, research, education and leadership on national and international wildlife health issues.

The ideal master of public health student(s) working with National Wildlife Center will have a demonstrated interest in wildlife biology or ecology, zoonotic or potentially zoonotic infectious disease and be comfortable working in a multidisciplinary environment to address questions that lie at the intersection of animal, human and environmental health.

Our primary goal for a student coming to the National Wildlife Center for an MPH field experience would be to provide a hands-on experience related to wildlife health and/or zoonotic disease at a federal government wildlife health agency. Students will be paired with a mentor (research scientist, epidemiologist, wildlife disease specialist) and work with their team on an independent project that is part of a larger research, diagnostic or surveillance endeavor.

Projects will be selected and overseen by the MPH student’s mentor and will be influenced by:

  1. Relevance to a scientist’s ongoing work
  2. Funding support
  3. Priority wildlife health issues at the time of the student’s field experience

Within those constraints, projects can be tailored to a particular student’s interests and skill level.

Example projects

Wildlife mortality reporting network

A majority of the recognized emerging diseases in humans originate in wildlife. Knowing this, public health professionals often look to wildlife or domestic animals as sentinels for human health threats. However, officials charged with the protection of public health are often not equipped to differentiate between “normal” morbidity and mortality events in wildlife, and events that indicate human health hazards.

We therefore wish to facilitate information exchange between the wildlife disease community and public health agencies through a MPH Field Experience that would focus on determining, then mapping, the level of current and potential interest of state and county public health agencies in the participation of a wildlife mortality reporting network. This would require the student to communicate with selected agencies via phone and email, to work with computer software experts to refine and implement an internet wildlife mortality-reporting network, to build GIS maps and to potentially analyze the data.

Under the guidance of NWHC’s wildlife disease specialists, there is also the requirement for the student to participate in wildlife mortality investigations either on-site or via phone and email. The student will also have the opportunity to attend related meetings.

West Nile virus disease maps

The USGS Geography Discipline (NWHC is in the Biology Discipline), in conjunction with the CDC and various Mosquito Control Agencies, has been producing West Nile virus disease maps since 2000. West Nile virus activity, as well as other major U.S. arthropod-borne viral diseases, is mapped on the national, state and county level and updated weekly during peak West Nile virus transmission (June-October). Separate maps are produced for virus activity in birds, humans, mosquitoes, veterinary cases and sentinel animals.

The maps are useful to determine broad seasonal and yearly temporal patterns of virus activity, but their use as predictors of near-term virus activity has not been thoroughly explored. Given that there can be a delay in testing and reporting results from samples, and in mapping those results our hypothesis is that these maps can provide a real-time prediction of human and veterinary disease risk in the near term (one to two weeks). To test this hypothesis, we have accumulated the weekly West Nile virus disease maps for California from early June 2007 through the present time.

The MPH student would work with the West Nile virus coordinators at the California Health Department and major mosquito control districts in California to determine the temporal relationship between sampling, testing, reporting and mapping. The student would also work with the mapping specialists at the USGS to statistically analyze the temporal and spatial relationships among these factors to determine whether West Nile virus risk predictions can be made from West Nile virus maps.

Laboratory experience

Students interested in a laboratory-based experience will work with a mentor to develop an independent research project that will incorporate all aspects of the research process, including literature review, experimental design, data collection/generation and analysis, and meeting regularly with the scientist mentor to discuss findings and new approaches. It is expected that the student’s work will lead to publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Current research projects students can contribute to include development and efficacy testing of diagnostic tests for West Nile virus (ELISA) and chronic wasting disease (PMCA), environmental transmission of chronic wasting disease and methods for disruption of disease transmission cycles. Topics for research projects are subject to change with federal funding cycles.

Additional opportunities

In addition to their central project at the NWHC, a master of public health student could additionally contribute to the following:

  • Updating NWHC disease fact sheets that are shared with our partner agencies and the public for outreach
  • Participating in NWHC outreach and educational events/workshops
  • Shadow/volunteer to participate in necropsy, field work, animal care or other NWHC activities

To learn more about the organization, please see NWHC’s website and the USGS Human Health site.