Dr Vini Pintos, Veterinary Microbiologist

Dr Vini Pintos is Head of Microbiology at Lab Services Ltd. Here he talks about his career at one of the biggest commercial veterinary labs in the UK.

Can you tell us about your average working day?

My average workday starts at 7am when I arrive at the lab. As I am one of the first people to arrive in my department, I am usually setting up the lab, which involves: 

  • taking media plates and consumable out of the cold storage
  • arranging the cultured plates on the bench to be read and interpreted
  • discarding old samples and catch up with e-mails.

Once the lab is set up, the “fun” starts. Me and my other senior staff members start to read and interpret the bacterial cultures from the previous day. As a senior microbiologist, I am responsible for identifying microorganisms, antimicrobial testing and sending reports. A big part of my day is on the phone talking about sample requirements and discussing results.

Why did you choose this specialty?

I always had an interest in infectious diseases and what is responsible for causing them. Studying veterinary microbiology gives the opportunity to learn about the intricate relationship between microorganisms and animal health.

What do you enjoy most about your job and specialty?

My favourite part of my job is the possibility of combining lab work with medical cases. It is very gratifying to know that we are responsible for helping clinicians to solve cases and in some cases avoid the needless use of antimicrobials.

How does it differ from the other specialties in veterinary pathology?

Our specialty provides the opportunity to be engaged in current topics such as One Health and Multidrug resistance. It also gives an opportunity to easily switch from clinical work to scientific research.

What are the most challenging aspects about your job?

Lab work can be very repetitive; it requires a lot of self-motivation and patience, particularly at the beginning of our career when we are not so much involved in more complex tasks.

Is there a particularly memorable case you've worked on?

In 2017, I worked on a Brucella canis case, which was very interesting and is still relevant in veterinary medicine and public health. In this case, a rescue dog was adopted in January 2016 following import from Romania. The sample received at the lab was a blood sample for culture. At the time of receipt, my team did not have the full clinical history of the patient so we therefore performed a standard blood culture. After five days, we had a positive result leading to further investigation in order to find out what particular bacteria had been isolated from the blood. After conducting all the necessary investigations, Brucella melitensis was the bacteria detected.

This case was a learning curve as a clinical microbiologist as one should always be aware of potential unusual pathogens especially when dealing with imported animals. It also was an opportunity to learn how to liaise with public health institutions such as Public Health England (PHE)  and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Due to the fact that this bacteria is a very rare CAT3 pathogen, it triggered a number of steps that I had to take for the first time in my career. I had to contact DEFRA and PHE to report our findings and ask for guidance about how to manage those exposed to the pathogen in the lab as well as the vets and owners. The bacteria strain was sent to the The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) Weybridge for identification confirmation, which luckily resulted to be Brucella canis instead. At this time, this was only the third Brucella canis reported in the UK. This case was a learning curve as a clinical microbiologist as one should always be aware of potential unusual pathogens especially when dealing with imported animals. It also was an opportunity to learn how to liaise with public health institutions such as PHE and DEFRA.

Once we alerted the lead veterinarian dealing with this case, we were able to receive the full clinical history of the patient. It displayed intermittent signs of pain when rising from a sitting position. Lesions consistent with diskospondylitis were detected via radiography in September 2016. Due to the progression of the disease and the poor prognosis, the dog was euthanased. B canis is endemic in canids in many countries, with increasing reports in mainland Europe, but is not thought to be endemic in the UK. However, while some other species of Brucella are notifiable, B canis, if isolated in a dog, is neither notifiable nor reportable to veterinary authorities. B canis infection appears most commonly in stray populations or where breeding of animals is poorly controlled. The organism can infect people, but reported cases are rare. As with all Brucella species, laboratory workers are at greatest risk. In this case a public health risk assessment was carried out for all personnel in contact with the sample, cultures or dog.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

I am most proud of becoming the head of my department, which is one of the biggest amongst commercial veterinary labs in the UK.

Tell us an interesting fact about veterinary microbiology.

Sometimes you can be responsible for identifying organisms, which are rarely seen in the UK. In these unusual cases, you have the opportunity to work closely with our counterparts in most various public institutions such as the APHA and PHE.

What do you think are the key skills someone in veterinary microbiology needs – and how do these skills help them do the job?

Anyone thinking about taking this path needs to be able to assimilate a lot of information and work very precisely. Being organised, precise and methodical are in my opinion great skills to have if you wish to work in a microbiology lab.

What advice would you give to students looking to enter your field?

To be very patient. A career in pathology is a long process. There will be long working hours in your journey and a lot of studying.