Animals provide many benefits to human civilization. Many people interact with animals in their daily lives, both at home and away from home. Animals can provide food, livelihood, travel, sport, companionship, and education to people across the globe. We can also come in contact with animals in urban and rural settings, during travel, visiting animal exhibits, or while enjoying the outdoors. However, animals can also spread harmful germs to people and cause illnesses known as zoonotic diseases, or zoonoses. These diseases can range from producing mild symptoms to more severe and even cause death in some instances.
What is a zoonotic disease?
A zoonotic disease is a disease that can pass from non-humans to humans. Some of these diseases may not make an animal sick but may cause a human to become sick. Diseases can range from minor, short-term illnesses to life-threatening. Zoonotic diseases can be spread through viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi.
There are well over one-hundred different types of zoonotic diseases. All animals including domesticated ones such as dogs, cats, birds, horses, cattle, and even smaller ones such as rodents and rabbits are capable of spreading the disease to people.
Some zoonotic diseases are more common than others and can be treated easily, while others may require more advanced forms of treatment. Depending on the disease, humans can become severely ill and can even pose the risk of death, while others may cause more minor reactions such as fevers, aches, or diarrhea.
Although many zoonotic diseases are common and treatable, some can prove more severe. Individuals who are at higher risk and may suffer more severe reactions and symptoms include:
- Pregnant women
- Adults over the age of 65
- Children age 5 and younger
- Those with weakened or compromised immune systems.
How are they transmitted?
Many transmissions occur when people are enjoying activities in the great outdoors. However, any areas where animals are present can allow for the transmission of zoonotic disease. Going to petting zoos, working with livestock, or if your pet carries in fleas or ticks are other examples of situations where you may come in contact with an infected animal and risk exposure. Germs can spread by the following methods:
- Direct Contact: Transmission through direct contact is when you come into contact with saliva, blood, urine, mucous, feces, or other bodily fluids from infected animals. Examples include petting or touching animals and bites or scratches.
- Food-borne: This type of transmission occurs through eating or drinking unsafe products such as raw milk, undercooked meat or consuming produce that is not properly washed and has been contaminated with feces from an infected animal.
- Indirect contact: Indirect contact refers to situations where you may come into contact with areas where animals live and roam or objects and surfaces that may be contaminated. Examples include aquarium tank water, pet habitats, chicken coops, barns, plants, and soil as well as pet food and water dishes.
- Vector-borne: This method refers to being bitten by a tick, mosquito, or flea.
- Water-borne: Drinking or coming into contact with water that has been contaminated with feces can put you at risk for water-borne transmission.
Common Zoonotic Diseases
As mentioned above, there over a hundred different types of zoonotic diseases, but below we’ve listed a few that are treated regularly.
- Cat scratch fever
- Hepatitis E
How can I reduce the risk of transmission?
Zoonotic diseases are common across the globe, but there are ways to reduce your risk of exposure and infection by following basic hygiene habits.
- Cleanse wounds after being bitten or scratched and monitor them closely. Seek medical attention if your condition does not improve
- Check for ticks after you’ve been outside
- Dispose of all waste materials promptly and safely
- Do not eat, drink, or touch your face while handling or when in close contact with animals
- If you have pets, have them vaccinated, taken for regular check-ups, and put on flea and tick preventatives
- Keep your house clean, especially areas where animals are kept
- Practice safe food handling
- Provide separate food and water dishes for pets and wash them separately from your family dishes
- Use insect repellents when spending time outdoors
- Wash pet toys and bedding frequently
- Wash your hands diligently
- Wear gloves when gardening or working in areas where animals may have urinated or defecated.
What about COVID-19?
We have been receiving questions regarding the coronavirus COVID-19 and household pets. It is important to note that the COVID-19 virus is a part of a large family of coronaviruses. Some can cause illness in people, which is what we are seeing today across the globe, while others can cause illness in certain species of non-humans such as cattle, bats, canines, and felines.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is currently no evidence that animals, including companion animals such as pet dogs or cats, can spread COVID-19. There is also no evidence to support that imported animals or animal products pose a risk of spreading COVID-19 to humans.
If you are sick or suspect you may be sick with COVID-19, you should restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just as you would with other people. While there are no reported cases of pets contracting COVID-19, it is recommended that you take the proper precautions should you become ill until more information is known about the virus. If possible, have enough members of your household or family friend take care of your pets. Avoid contact with your pet including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must have contact with your pets, wash your hands before and after interacting with them and limit contact as much as possible.
The seriousness of zoonotic diseases can vary depending on the type of disease. Many are treatable, while others can cause serious long-term, lifelong, or even fatal conditions, so it is important to check with your healthcare provider as soon as you think you may have a zoonotic disease. For more information regarding zoonotic diseases, please contact My Neighborhood Vet today.