Pets May Pass Illnesses to Owners01/21/11
THURSDAY, Jan. 20 (HealthDay News) -- You might want to think
twice before snuggling in bed at night with Fido or Fluffy.
According to a report published in the February issue of the
public health journal
Emerging Infectious Diseases, seemingly healthy pets can carry parasites, bacteria or viruses that cause mild to life-threatening illness in people.
Of the 250 zoonotic diseases -- infections transmitted between
animals and people -- more than 100 are derived from domestic pets,
said veterinarian Dr. Bruno Chomel, report co-author and professor
of zoonoses at University of California School of Veterinary
Medicine at Davis.
Even though disease transmission is low in comparison to how
many people sleep with their pets -- more than half of all U.S. pet
owners -- Chomel said the risks are still there.
"Having a pet in the bed is not a good idea," he said.
In one case a 69-year-old man, whose dog slept under the covers
with him and licked his hip replacement wound, came down with
meningitis. Another incident involved a 9-year-old boy who got
plague, a potentially deadly bacterial infection, from sleeping
with his flea-infested cat.
Other infections transmitted to people after sleeping with their
cat or dog, kissing them or being licked by the pet include:
hookworm, ringworm, roundworm, cat scratch disease and
drug-resistant staph infections, the report said.
While people need to be aware that it's possible to get sick
from a pet, the health benefits of ownership far outweigh the
risks, said Dr. Peter Rabinowitz of the Yale School of Medicine and
co-author of the text book
Human-Animal Medicine: Clinical Approaches to Zoonoses,
Toxicants and Other Shared Health Risks. Research has shown that besides offering psychological support and friendship, pets help to lower blood pressure, increase physical activity, reduce stress and lift owners' spirits, among other things.
However, he said, people with weakened immune systems are at
greater risk for getting an infection from an animal. These include
the elderly, children younger than 5 years, people with HIV/AIDS
and cancer patients.
Owners can stay healthy by practicing good hygiene habits, which
include washing hands with soap and hot water after handling pets,
especially puppies, kittens or any aged cat or dog with diarrhea.
Those "high-risk pets," he said, are more likely to harbor an
infection that could be passed to people. Also, immediately wash
any area licked by a pet.
To prevent and catch illnesses early, keep animals free of fleas
and ticks, routinely de-worm them and have them regularly examined
by a veterinarian, the report advises. The authors also discourage
owners from kissing their cats or dogs and sharing a bed with
Because most zoonotic diseases are under-diagnosed or not
reportable to health authorities, Rabinowitz said no one really
knows how many cases occur each year. However, he suspects several
million infections are passed between pets and people annually in
the United States, ranging from self-limited skin conditions to
life-threatening systemic illnesses.
"We think there are probably a lot of infections that happen and nobody really figures out that it came from the pet," said Rabinowitz, program director of the Yale Human Animal Medicine Project.
In recent years, an initiative called "One Health" -- whose
supporters include the American Medical Association, the American
Nurses Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association
-- has pushed for better communication and collaboration between
doctors and veterinarians. Approximately 60 percent of all human
pathogens are zoonotic, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention.
Just this week the president of the American Medical Association
spoke at a veterinary conference in Orlando, Fla., about the
importance of unifying the health professions.
"It's not only animals giving infections to people, it looks like people can infect animals, too," said Rabinowitz, citing a case where a domestic shorthaired cat in Iowa contracted the H1N1 virus from its owner. "It's a two-way street."
To find out more zoonotic illnesses, head to the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
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