My Date with Dr. Feldman

The year was 1938 – before iPhones and computers, before 70’s disco and 60’s protests, before landing on the moon, and World War II. A researcher in veterinary medicine and comparative pathology from the University of Minnesota by the name of Dr. William H. Feldman (1892-1974) just published his new book, Avian Tuberculosis Infections. Little did he know that this one-of-a-kind book would one day find its way to the San Diego Zoo…

For many years the Wildlife Disease Laboratories has been investigating transmission of avian tuberculosis. Caused by a bacterium related to human tuberculosis, avian tuberculosis has long been thought of as being highly contagious, easily transmitted from bird-to-bird in a manner analogous to its human counterpart.

However, recent studies conducted by our team of scientists have questioned this dogma. Is it really transmitted easily from bird-to-bird or could there be other sources, such as the environment, that have been overlooked? This question is important, because the answer affects how we approach avian conservation and health issues.

To answer this question we need to go back to the original research dating from the late 1800’s – early 1900’s when human and avian tuberculosis were simultaneously discovered. After weeks of searching through historic literature, I came across a reference to Dr. Feldman’s book and instantly knew it would be my “must-read”.   

I luckily found a copy in an online used book store, immediately had it shipped, and it just arrived in my office. A snapshot of history in my hands on everything-there-is-to-know-about-bird-tuberculosis as it was in 1938 with the bonus feature of it being signed by Dr. Feldman himself!

A total of 79 years separates his work and the research I am doing today with San Diego Zoo Global, yet we are tied together through science. I hope Dr. Feldman would be proud that his book came to the San Diego Zoo and is helping us understand avian tuberculosis transmission in 2016.  

Today we are building on his foundational work and aim to solve the puzzle of transmission once and for all. In the meantime, I have 483 pages to read on my date with Dr. Feldman.