If you have decided to add a pet to your family, firstly, you need to know these animals carry pathogens that can get transmitted and make you prone to numerous diseases.
Did You Know?
Diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans are known as zoonotic diseases. Toxoplasmosis, rabies, and lymphocytic choriomeningitis are a few zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted to humans.
Pets can be a great addition to a family. They are lovable ‘friends’ and simply watching them play relieves stress and uplifts your gloomy mood. Pets like cats and dogs can be great companions, especially when you are going through difficult times. However, one should not forget that pets harbor a lot of pathogens that can pass down to humans and cause diseases. Therefore, it is always better to be cautious when it comes to taking care of pets. In this HealthHearty article we’ll take a look at the different diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.
Zoonotic Diseases that Spread from Animals to Humans
Cat Scratch Disease
Love playing with your cat? Beware! If it bites or scratches you, there is a high probability that you may suffer from cat scratch disease (CSD), a condition that is typically marked by fever, inflammation of the lymph nodes around your neck and underarms, decrease in appetite, headache, fatigue, and body ache. Cats exposed to the Bartonella henselae strain of bacteria pass the infection to humans through biting or scratching. Apart from these, the bacteria can also be transmitted if the cat/kitten licks your open wound. The symptoms usually appear 7-14 days after coming in contact with the bacteria. The first signs include formation of papule or blisters at the affected site. Surprisingly, the bacteria do not harm the host, so it is unlikely that your cat will show any symptoms.
Treatment: In most instances, CSD is not a health concern and symptoms go away on their own without any medical intervention. However, to reduce the duration of the infection, antibiotics such as azithromycin may be prescribed.
Exposure to cat feces can cause toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection caused by a one-celled parasite T.gondii, which is characterized by fever, headache, body pain, swollen lymph nodes, and in few cases people also suffer from sore throat. The parasite affects the epithelial cells of the small intestine and undergo growth and reproduction there. No wonder, the feces of an infected cat can contain up to 10 million egg-cysts. So, if you come in contact with cat feces (for instance when cleaning a cat’s litter tray) and do not wash your hands, there is a high probability that the microscopic egg-cysts may gain entry into your body when you touch your mouth with those dirty hands, eventually causing toxoplasmosis.
Treatment: Usually, most cases of toxoplasmosis are not a cause of concern and do not require any medical assistance. Severe cases may be treated with a multidrug antibiotic regimen of sulfadiazine and pyrimethamine or a single dose of azithromycin. In any case, the treatment has to be continued for a period of 3-6 weeks.
A dog is considered to be a man’s best friend but if it bites, it can give you a hell of a time. Dog bites are a common cause of rabies, a viral disease that can be life-threatening provided immediate treatment is not undertaken or the dog is not vaccinated. So, before the symptoms aggravate, it is necessary to undergo proper treatment as the virus can spread through the peripheral nerves and ultimately affect the brain. The early symptoms that are noticed include fever, headache, pain, and uneasiness. If timely treatment is not undertaken, the symptoms may worsen and cause insomnia, confusion, restlessness, hydrophobia, and eventually the person may slip into a state of coma.
Treatment: As aforementioned, people bitten by unvaccinated dogs require immediate medical attention. Usually, the patient is given a single dose of human rabies immunoglobulin followed by 4 injections of rabies vaccine over a span of 14 days.
Leptospirosis is caused by the leptospira strain of bacteria and is transmitted through the urine of an infected animal. The hosts of this bacterium among animals include dogs, cats, rats, pigs, and cattle. As a pet owner, you may unknowingly come in contact with the urine of your infected pet through contact with water, food, or soil. This can happen when you touch something that’s contaminated with the infected urine and subsequently through hand to mouth, the bacteria can enter your body and cause infection. The bacteria seem to cause no harm to dogs but when it infects humans, symptoms such as chills, a high temperature usually between 100.4-104 Fahrenheit, muscle ache, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting have been reported in 90% cases of leptospirosis. These health concerns usually go away within a week but in few cases the symptoms may aggravate and damage the kidneys and liver.
Treatment: Antibiotics like azithromycin, ceftriaxone, ampicillin, doxycycline, and penicillin may be effective for treating this infection. Severe cases of leptospirosis are treated with intravenous administration of antibiotics.
Lyme disease is a bacterial disease caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi strain of bacteria, and is spread through the bite of infected ticks. Ticks are small spider-like insects that usually dwell in places where there is dense vegetation, which is normally seen in wooded areas. If you take your dog for a walk in the woods, there is a possibility that an infected tick may attach itself to parts of your dog’s body. Your pet may bring the infected tick into your home and infest your surroundings. So, when you affectionately run your hands over your dog’s coat, the infected tick can latch onto your skin and subsequently spread the infection. You may develop a rash within 7-14 days of getting exposed to the bacteria. Initially, a small red papule may form at the location of the bite, which can subsequently turn into a boil. Over time, multiple boils around the site of bite may appear. This may be followed by fever, swollen lymph nodes, stiff neck, fatigue, headache, joint ache, and muscle pain.
Treatment: Usually, a 14-day antibiotic course of doxycycline or amoxicillin is prescribed to treat lyme disease. Starting the treatment at the earliest is the key to speed up the recovery process.
This is a viral infection that is transmitted through pet rodents such as mouse, hamster, and guinea pigs. Pet rodents may get exposed to the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus from wild rodents at breeding facilities and pet stores. Rodents at pet shops are usually sourced from large-scale breeding sites where the risk of contracting diseases always exists. Moreover, as there are many animals at such breeding centers, animal care programs are often poorly implemented. So, one should buy rodents either from a reliable pet store or a private breeder, where the environment is properly maintained and the welfare of animals is not neglected. However, pet rodents can catch this disease even at your home, if your premises are infested with wild rats.
You may contract lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM) after coming in contact with the urine, saliva, feces, or blood of your infected pet rodent. Being a viral infection, it causes flu-like symptoms, such as fever, body ache, nausea, sore throat, and nausea. At a later stage the condition may aggravate and cause meningitis symptoms like stiff neck, severe headache, confusion, sensitivity to light, and seizures.
Treatment: In case of mild symptoms, medical intervention is not necessary but people with severe LCM will have to be admitted to the hospital immediately.
Caused by the Chlamydia psittaci strain of bacteria, psittacosis is a bird-borne lung infection. Although all birds are vulnerable to the bacteria, the infection is commonly passed down to humans from different species of parrots such as macaws, parakeets, and cockatiels. The bacteria present in the droppings (fecal matter) of infected parrots eventually get aerosolized and is subsequently inhaled by humans. The eye and nose discharge of the infected parrot is also contaminated with bacteria, which may be transmitted to humans through airborne contamination. The infection can also spread if the infected bird bites you or touches your mouth with its beak. People affected with psittacosis can develop a minor flu-like illness that typically causes a nonproductive cough, fever, headache, breathing difficulties, body ache, and excessive tiredness. In some cases, the patient’s condition may worsen and the diagnosis may reveal severe pneumonia.
Treatment: Patients are generally put on antibiotic dosage of doxycycline for around 14 days. Other antibiotics such as macrolides and tetracyclines are also found to be effective to destroy the Chlamydia psittaci strain of bacteria.
Hookworms are parasites around 0.6 to 1.3 cm in length and commonly affect dogs and cats. Your pet may develop this parasitic infection by unknowingly consuming hookworm eggs and larvae from contaminated food. The parasitic eggs are often released through the fecal matter of the animal. So, in case you handle your pet’s feces without taking the necessary precautions, there is a high probability of getting hookworm infection. Abdominal pain, fever, fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, itchy rash, loss of appetite, and blood in stool are some of the most common symptoms associated with hookworms in humans. In a similar way, parasitic illnesses such as tapeworms and roundworms can transmit via animals to humans.
Treatment: When it comes to eliminating parasitic worms, taking anthelmintic medicines is the first choice of treatment. Be it roundworms, tapeworms, or hookworms, anthelmintic drugs such as mebendazole and albendazole are prescribed.
Ringworm is a fungal infection in which fungi attack the hair and hair follicles of dogs and cats. The part of the skin that has been infected by the fungus shows patchy areas of hair loss. In most cases, this is visible on your pet’s head, forelimbs, ears, and paws. Moreover, lesions form at these bald spots. The infection is contagious and can easily pass on to humans. Moving your hands over an infected dog’s coat or cleaning kennels of infected dogs can increase the risk of ringworm transmission. The symptoms include a 2-inch wide ring-like red itchy rash on different areas of the body.
Treatment: Ringworm in humans is treated with topical antifungal agents. Dabbing antifungal cream, ointment, powder, or spray is all that is needed to get rid of the fungus. A stubborn ringworm infection may require use of antifungal pills.
Brucellosis, a bacterial infection, commonly affects farm animals such as cattle, sheep, and goat, and can easily spread to humans. It is commonly transmitted by drinking unpasteurized milk or dairy products such as cheese of infected animals. The Brucella bacteria can also spread through airborne agents. Airborne transmission can occur when you inhale the bacteria. Farmers, people working at slaughterhouses, and even laboratory staff that carry different tests on the sample under consideration, are at an increased risk of getting brucellosis infection through airborne pathogens. Fever, chills, fatigue, muscle and joint pain are some of the most common symptoms associated with brucellosis in humans.
Treatment: As the infection is found to be recurring, a combination of antibiotics are recommended to prevent relapse. So, a multidrug antibiotic course is often advised to people affected with brucellosis. Antibiotics that may be prescribed are doxycycline, streptomycin, gentamicin, and rifampin.
How to Prevent the Transmission of Diseases from Pets
- Never use your bare hands when it comes to changing litter or removing your pet’s feces. Always wear rubber gloves and cover your nose and mouth with a N95 respirator when cleaning the kennel, cage, or litter box of your pet. One can also use disinfectants such as Clorox to effectively clean the litter pan.
- In order to minimize the risk of diseases, make sure to clean your pets ‘home’ on a regular basis.
- Make it a point to rinse your hands properly with an antiseptic soap after dealing with pets, especially after cleaning their waste matter. This will help minimize airborne transmission of infections.
- Puppies and kittens are especially vulnerable to parasitic infections. Hence, getting your pet vaccinated and scheduling veterinary visits at regular intervals can go a long way in reducing the risk of diseases.
- No matter how much you adore your pet, avoid kissing and cuddling your pet. Holding the pet near your face can also increase the risk of contracting infections. Also, do not allow your pet to lick your fingers or face. This can go a long way in preventing diseases from your pets.
- To prevent transmission of diseases that occur from tick bites, avoid roaming in the woods and grassy areas. Wearing appropriate clothing can also contribute in keeping tick bites at bay. Wear long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and thick-soled boots that cover your arms and legs when you are in the woods.
- In case, you are not comfortable handling the feces despite wearing gloves, you may use a ‘pooper scooper’ for lifting and dumping the feces into the garbage. A better option would be to flush it off from the toilet.
Although diseases can be transmitted from animals to humans, it certainly does not mean you ignore or stop taking care of your pets. Following basic sanitary practices, maintaining pet hygiene, and of course buying it from a trusted source can keep you and your pet healthy, thereby helping to nurture pet-owner relationship.