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Remembering Dr. Coggins: Pioneer in Equine Health

Dr. Leroy Collins, the first head of what was then the Department of Microbiology, Pathology, and Parasitology at the NC State University School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM), has died at age 81.

Dr. Coggins was one of the founding group of SVM administrators that established NC State’s veterinary medicine program in 1980, five years prior to the first graduating class. He is highly esteemed and is internationally recognized for his pioneering work in developing a sensitive diagnostic test for equine infectious anemia that bears his name.

Dr. cogginsBorn July 29, 1932, in Thomasville, North Carolina, Dr. Coggins earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Dairy Sciences from NC State in 1955 and, in 1957, a DVM degree from Oklahoma State University. He conducted research on viruses as a first lieutenant in the Army Veterinary Corps from 1957 to 1959 and later pursued his interest in virus research at Cornell University where he obtained a doctoral degree in virology in 1962.

Dr. Coggins was in Kenya in the mid-1960s for a five-year U.S. Department of Agriculture project when he helped develop a new diagnostic test for African swine fever. He returned to Cornell in 1968 to study Equine Infectious Anemia, a viral disease of horses for which there is no vaccine and no cure. An infected horse may not show symptoms for an extended period and can infect other horses if not isolated. Early detection of EIA is critical.

Dr. Coggins applied the insight he gained in developing the diagnostic test for African swine fever and created a method that quickly and effectively checks for EIA antibodies in the horse’s blood. Formally approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1973, the “Coggins Test” was central to the progress in controlling the equine disease in North America and continues to provide the equine industry and veterinary medicine with important tools to control EIA.

Thanks to the Coggins Test, owners know if their horse is infected within two days. The test is often required by horse shows and to transport horses across state lines. Some states now require a negative Coggins test on a horse before it can be sold.

“I knew Dr. Coggins before I came to NC State because of the overlap of our terms on the Council on Research at AVMA,” said Oscar Fletcher, Dean Emeritus (1992-2004) and a professor of poultry health management in the Department of Population Health and Pathobiology. “It also was a pleasure to work with him for several years here at NC State. Leroy always had the same calm and confident presence. One would never know from his statements that he was the veterinary scientist who developed the Coggins test and as a result had international recognition.

“He held faculty and staff to standards of excellence that resulted in high levels of productivity, I think because no one wanted to disappoint him,” continued Dr. Fletcher. “He represented the faculty and staff in his department effectively and fairly in both college council meetings and one-on-one with me in my role as Dean. He handled his health problems with humor and no complaints. He was able to balance work and other interests, especially family in ways that serve as an example for the rest of us.”

A member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, Conference of Research Workers in Animal Diseases, United States Livestock Association, and Sigma Xi, Dr. Coggins was a pioneer whose research significantly improved the practice of veterinary medicine while saving equestrians billions of dollars.

Dr. Coggins retired from the College of Veterinary Medicine in 1994.

Article in Cornell Veterinarian by Dr. Coggins on developing the diagnostic test for equine infectious anemia.

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