A team of students from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech has claimed third place honors in the national Hill's Pet Nutrition Public Health Award Competition.

Fourth-year students John G. Dyer of Vienna, and Justin Brown of Blacksburg, earned $500 for a project titled "Homeland Security Blanket: Mental Health Preparedness for an Exotic Animal Disease Disaster."

The authors proposed that media coverage of animal disease epidemics such as Great Britain's recent epidemic of Foot and Mouth Disease, bioterrorism fears sparked by the Sept. 11 disasters, and the emergence of new zoonotic diseases such as the West Nile Virus can affect the mental health and well-being of the public.

The students proposed the development of a communications campaign that would provide the public with accurate information about disease threats, identify sources of additional public information and present an overview of the steps that state and federal government agencies are taking to protect them.

The pair initially prepared the paper as part of a veterinary public policy class they took during their third year of study, according to Dr. Ted Mashima, associate director of the college's Center for Government and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at College Park, Maryland.