Clinic Stories

Animal Magnetism

Our pets enhance our lives in many ways but sometimes what rubs off on us is unwelcome. Zoonoses are diseases or conditions that are transmitted from animals to people or vice versa. Fortunately, these events are uncommon in our society, but they do occur. Here are some worth mentioning:

Curent and Common Threats

  1. Rabies – In the US pets are required to be vaccinated for Rabies for valid reasons. About 50,000 people die in the world every year from Rabies. The most common carriers are raccoons, skunks, fox, dogs and cats. All of these occur locally and in some parts of New Jersey there are Rabies outbreaks in otters.
  2. Fleas – That same flea that gets on our dogs or cats will just as soon bite you. The most common place for people to get flea bites is on their ankles.
  3. Lyme Disease – Lyme Disease is carried by ticks but many people say they got Lyme Disease from their cat or dog bringing in ticks which then bite the owner. Use flea and tick preventive if your pet goes outside.
  4. Ringworm – This is a fungal rash that occurs on the skin of people as well as cats and dogs. I once had an Ophthalmic Surgeon bring in her cat for ringworm. The owner had ringworm on her hand and could not work until it was healed.

Current and Less Common Threats

  1. Salmonella and Campylobacter – Pets occasionally get chronic diarrhea from Salmonella which can be transmitted to people. Reptiles very commonly are carriers of Salmonella. The reason small turtles are no longer sold is because children would put them in their mouths and contract Salmonella.
  2. Roundworms – Those spaghetti like worms in dog and cat droppings can infect people. This is most common in children who play in dirt where animals have defecated then put their hands in their mouths. I worked with a man who got roundworms while working with pigs because he was always putting his hand in his mouth to load up with chewing tobacco.
  3. Toxoplasmosis – This parasite can be shed in cat feces or be present in uncooked beef. If a first infection occurs in women in the the first trimester of pregnancy it can cause birth defects. Hence pregnant women are advised not to clean cat litter boxes (or eat undercooked beef).
  4. Psittacosis – This is a respiratory infection in parrots that can infect people. It was much more common when birds were caught in the jungles of Central and South America. Now essentially all pet birds are hatched in the US.
  5. Ear Mites, Scabies Mites – Generally these mites do not bother people but occasionally they will burrow into the skin in people and cause a rash, generally on the forearms.
  6. Cat Scratch Fever – This is a bacteria that causes swollen lymph nodes from being licked, bitten or scratched by a cat usually in children or younger teenagers.
  7. Lice and Pinworms – Old wife's tale alert! Despite people claiming that they got lice or their kids got pinworms from their pets, pinworms do not infect pets and lice are specific not only to a type of animal but also to a part of the body.

Zoonoses You Can Get if You Walk on the Wild Side

  1. Leptospirosis and Giardia – These are parasites that can live in water where wild animals have urinated or defecated. Be careful what you drink if you live in the woods.
  2. Tularemia – You can get this bacteria from eating wild rabbits.
  3. Huntavirus – If you live with wild rodents watch out for this respiratory infection.
  4. Bubonic Plague – Nope, this didn't die out with one-third of the population of Europe during the Middle Ages. It still occurs throughout the world including a dozen or so deaths a year in the US. Plague is transmitted by fleas from carrier rats, another reason to keep cats around.
  5. Leprosy – We don't have leper colonies in the US but about 100 people a year get Leprosy from Armadillos. Armadillos also can damage your lawn.

Zoonoses of Historical Significance

  1. Brucellosis – The generation before mine was filled with Veterinarians whose careers ended by becoming infected with Brucellosis from cattle. Fortunately cattle are now tested and most states are free of Brucellosis.
  2. Q Fever – This is a bacteria that is shed in raw milk and is the main reason milk is pasteurized.
  3. Trichinosis – A parasite that infects people by eating infected pork that is undercooked, it has been eradicated from commercial pigs.
  4. Tuberculosis – This is another disease that can affect people from eating meat from infected animals but is no longer present in commercially produced meat. This is one of the many victories from government meat inspection.
  5. Avian Influenza – Birds are an important reservoir of influenza and are closely monitored for strains that can cross over into people.

In Summary:

  • Vaccinate your pets for Rabies.
  • Use flea and tick preventive on your pets.
  • Live in a house without mice or rats or get a cat that is a good mouser.
  • Drink municipal water and pasteurized milk, and eat well cooked, inspected meat.
  • Don't play in the dirt or with armadillos.
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