The month of September is Rabies Awareness Month and Sept. 28 is World Rabies Awareness Day. Rabies is a deadly zoonotic disease that can be easily spread from animals to humans. A zoonotic disease is any infectious disease that can be transmitted across species particularly from animals to humans.
There are many zoonotic diseases today and it is believed that many of our modern diseases started as a zoonotic disease. Zoonoses can also relate to a disease spread between animals and humans by way of a common vector or an agent that carries the disease. Below, I am going to discuss the most common zoonoses in small animal veterinary medicine and how you can protect you and your family.
1. Parasites: Roundworms are a very common parasite in cats and dogs. Puppies and kittens acquire the roundworm from their mothers before birth. Roundworms live in the intestinal tract of cats and dogs and can cause significant disease. The eggs of the parasite can be transmitted to humans through the animal's feces. This most commonly occurs from children playing in open sandboxes where cats have defecated and from people not washing their hands before eating. Flies can also transfer the eggs from feces to food and other surfaces. Infection with roundworm eggs can lead to visceral larval migrans or ocular larval migrans from migration of the larvae throughout the body. Prevention includes having your pet's stool checked by your veterinarian on a regular basis, keeping sandboxes covered, and washing your hands and food thoroughly before eating.
Take the proper precautions to keep your furry friends happy and healthy.
Hookworms are another intestinal parasite of cats and dogs that can lead to Cutaneous larval migrans in people through contact with infected soil or sand. The larvae burrow under the skin and can cause infected lesions. Prevention includes not walking barefoot in areas where animals frequently defecate.
Giardia is a parasite that lives in the intestines of infected humans and animals. Transmission is through ingestion of contaminated water, soil, or food. Most common causes of transmission occur from poor sanitation, drinking of contaminated water, or eating food handled by a person carrying the parasite. Prevention includes cleanliness and hand washing, and drinking water only from a known safe source.
Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite spread either through the feces of infected cats, or through the ingestion of uncooked meat containing the parasite. Most common infections occur in immune-compromised people and precautions must also be taken in pregnant women who have had no previous exposure to the parasite. Prevention includes wearing gloves while gardening, or when changing the cat litter and most importantly eating only cooked meat.
2. Fungi: Ringworm or dermatophytosis is a fungus that affects the skin of animals and humans. It thrives in warm moist environments and is most commonly acquired from other people in gyms, locker rooms, swimming pools, and tanning beds. It can be transmitted between pets and people. To prevent infection, avoid sharing towels or sports equipment, avoid walking barefoot, and avoid touching suspicious areas on your pet. Have them checked by your veterinarian if you suspect your pet may have ringworm.
3. Bacteria: Salmonella is a bacteria found in warm and cold blooded animals and in the environment. Most infections are due to contaminated food sources, but the bacteria can also be contracted from undercooked food, contaminated water, and improper handling of reptiles and amphibians. Be sure to eat properly cooked food and wash hands immediately after handling pet reptiles and amphibians.
E-coli is a bacteria found in the intestinal tract of warm blooded animals and humans and can also be a source of contamination of food sources causing food borne illnesses. Be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables properly and practice proper hygiene at all times.
Cat Scratch Disease is caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae from a cat scratch or bite. It can cause swollen lymph nodes, fever, and systemic infection. If you know your cat has a tendency to bite or scratch when provoked, be sure to use caution when handling in certain situations such as going to the vet. Use gloves, and warn your veterinarian and anybody else before handling the cat. If bitten or scratched, immediately wash the area with hot water and antibacterial soap and schedule a visit to your own doctor to prevent infection!
Lyme disease is a bacterial disease caused by the Borrelia species transmitted by the deer tick. Deer are the natural host for the tick and the bacteria can affect both dogs and humans. Initial signs include a rash around the area, fever, and later on arthritis, kidney and neorologic disease. Prevention includes vaccination and tick control for your dogs and protective clothing and insecticide sprays for yourself.
Leptospirosis is a bacteria spread in the urine of infected animals which include deer, rats, mice, moles and many other warm blooded animals. Contamination occurs through an infected water source or food source through skin contact. Leptospirosis can cause acute fever and kidney failure in all of the above animals and humans. Prevention includes a vaccination for your dogs in endemic areas. Ask your veterinarian if your dog should be vaccinated against leptospirosis.
4. Viruses: Rabies is a viral disease in warm blooded animals and humans that causes acute inflammation of the brain leading to death. According to the CDC, rabies has caused over 55,000 human deaths worldwide annually and is usually acquired from a dog bite. It is New York state law to have your cats and dogs vaccinated against rabies with a booster at one year and every three years thereafter. Even if your pet is indoors only, a rabid bat can still get into your home and transmit the deadly disease to your pets. Common carriers of rabies include bats, raccoons, skunks, fox and coyotes. If you or your pet has been exposed to a rabid animal, quarantine your pet and call your local health department, doctor's office and veterinarian immediately.
West Nile Virus is a virus transmitted by mosquitoes from birds. People are dead end hosts and do not transmit the disease. It most commonly affects the immune system and can lead to inflammation of the brain. The only prevention at this time is mosquito control.
There are many more zoonotic diseases in our world today. Be sure to follow state regulations and your veterinarian's recommendations to protect your pets and your family. Keep your pet up to date on their vaccines, have stool samples checked regularly, and always practice proper hygiene to keep your family safe.