Pets: Infections They Give Us
Annapolis Urgent Care Spotlight
Pets can benefit your health–or pets can give us infections that make us extremely ill. For instance, the beloved family dog causes around 10,000 cases of roundworm, every year, which causes fever and fatigue. Even worse, though, is that about 700 cases of roundworm infect the eyes and cause blindness. Cats cause over 20,000 cases of Cat Scratch Disease (also called Cat Scratch Fever) of which 2,000 people are hospitalized annually.
Scientist use the term “Zoonotic” to describe diseases that humans get from animals–and there are a lot of them. This article will review what some of the most popular pets can give us–and how to avoid them!
Contracting a disease from a pet is relatively rare, considering the number of pets and almost all of them can be avoided with proper precautions. For instance, don’t lick your turtle and don’t break up mating cats. And, the happiness and joy that pets bring their owners is very well known. In a nice article from CNN in June 2014, they detail the benefits which include improved self esteem, getting people to move more, stress reduction and more socializing.
Campylobacter: Dogs, Cats, Hamsters and Birds
Every year we see more than 2 million cases of Campylobacter jejuni which causes an awful diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever. Campylobacter infection can be transmitted by household pets carrying Campylobacter jejuni bacteria. The bacteria may be in the intestinal tract of infected dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, and certain farm animals. A person can become infected through contact with contaminated water, feces, undercooked meat, or unpasteurized milk. Importantly, Campylobacter infections are contagious, especially among members of the same family and kids in childcare or preschools.
So what about those dogs and their roundworm. People usually pick up the parasite by accidentally swallowing dirt that contains dog waste–beware kids playing in backyards are the most likely to be infected. The most important thing people can do is follow their vet’s deworming schedule, said Douglas Aspros, former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Toxocariasis is an illness caused by the parasitic roundworm Toxocara, which lives in the intestines of dogs and cats. The eggs from the worms are passed in the stools of dogs and cats, often contaminating soil where kids play. When a child ingests the contaminated soil, the eggs hatch in the intestine and the larvae spread to other organs, an infection known as visceral larva migrans. Symptoms include fever, cough or wheezing, enlarged liver, rash, or swollen lymph nodes. Symptoms may resolve on their own or a doctor may prescribe drugs to kill the larvae. When the larvae in the intestine make their way through the bloodstream to the eye, it is known as ocular toxocariasis, or ocular larva migrans, which may lead to a permanent loss of vision.
Toxoplasmosis is contracted after contact with cat feces. In most healthy people, toxoplasmosis, caused by a parasite, produces no symptoms. When symptoms do occur they may include swollen glands, fatigue, muscle pain, fever, sore throat, and a rash. In pregnant women, toxoplasmosis can cause miscarriage, premature births, and severe illness and blindness in newborns. Pregnant women should avoid contact with litter boxes. People whose immune systems have been weakened by illnesses such as HIV or cancer are at risk for severe complications from toxoplasmosis infection.
Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis (LCM): Hamsters, Guinea Pigs and Mice
(aka “Pocket Pets”)
Even the name of this sounds awful and it’s the adorable little hamsters, guinea pigs and mice that carry this disease. People get this when coming into contact with rodent droppings, urine and saliva. The virus typically causes flu-like symptoms, including fever and muscle aches, but it can, in rare cases, lead to encephalitis (infection of the brain) and meningitis (infection of the membrane lining the brain). CDC’s tip here is to avoid “pocket pets” that seem lethargic and adopt them from a reliable source that monitors the pet’s health. Like Toxoplasmosis, infected mother’s can pass this along to their fetus.
Cryptococcosis and Psittacosis: Birds
Cryptococcosis is a fungal disease one gets from inhaleing organisms found in bird droppings, especially from pigeons, that can cause pneumonia. People with weakened immune systems from illnesses such as HIV or cancer are at increased risk of contracting this disease and developing serious complications, such as meningitis.
Psittacosis, also known as parrot fever, a bacterial illness that can occur from contact with infected bird feces or with the dust that accumulates in birdcages. Symptoms include coughing, high fever, and headache. It is treated with antibiotics.
Rabies is a serious illness caused by a virus that enters the body through a bite or wound contaminated by the saliva from an infected animal such as dogs, cats. Most dogs and cats have been immunized and it is very rare for them to get or transmit rabies to humans anymore. In fact, human rabies is almost always from wild bats, foxes, skunks or raccoons.
Salmonella: Reptiles and Amphibians
Most people now know that reptiles and amphibians (such as Geckos, Turtles, Lizards and Snakes) shed Salmonella. Touching the reptile’s skin or cage can cause Salmonellosis with symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. Young children are at risk for more serious illness, including dehydration, meningitis, and sepsis (blood infection). This outbreak is the most recent in a string of salmonella infections associated with pet reptiles. About 70,000 people get salmonella infections, typically including fever and diarrhea, from reptiles every year in the United States. Most recover within four to seven days, although some infections require hospitalization.
In fact, in 1975, the U.S. FDA banned the sale of small turtles because children like to put small turtles in their mouths. “Young children find very creative ways to infect themselves,” said Vic L. Boddie II, Ph.D., a consumer safety officer in the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.
Petting zoos seem more common than ever. Children’s birthday parties, school events, charity walks often times have animals that children and adults can touch. The same is true of county fairs where animals are within reach. Unfortunately, some of these events have been associated with outbreaks of E. coli and flu.The CDC advises people visiting petting zoos and county fairs to wash their hands after visiting animals and the areas where they are held. Remember that any and all of the above disease can be transmitted at one of these petting zoos or county fairs.
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