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article imageMedical study warns about diseases transmitted by pets

By Stephen Morgan     Apr 20, 2015 in Health
Pets are affectionate friends, which many of us love a great deal. However, that love could be blinding us to the real dangers of contracting diseases from our household companions.
We all like patting, stroking or scratching our pets, and many people enjoy it when pooches, in particular, reciprocate with affectionate licks on the face, nose and mouth. After all, what harm could it do?
In fact, aren't there many benefits to having the companionship of pets, especially for the old and sick? Of course, they're great fun for the kids too.
But doctors are warning that people are not sufficiently aware of how pets can pass on unpleasant illnesses, and, in particular, that they can be very dangerous for people in high risk categories.
A paper just published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal is advising people to be far more cautious in the type of contact they have with pets of all descriptions. They particularly warn about the dangers to the old, sick, pregnant women and young children, as well as anyone with a weak immune system.
Science Codex says,
"All pets can transmit diseases to people. For instance, dogs, cats, rodents, reptiles and amphibians can transmit Salmonella, multidrug resistant bacteria (including Clostridium difficile), Campylobacter jejuni and other diseases. Parasites such as hookworm, roundworm and Toxoplasma can also be transmitted. Infection can be contracted from bites, scratches, saliva and contact with feces. Reptiles and amphibians can transmit disease indirectly, such as via contaminated surfaces." Indeed, as many as 70 different diseases can be passed on.
While healthy people are generally not at high-risk of dangerous infections, Dr. Jason Stull, an assistant professor at the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, Ohio State University, said that most people are unaware of the possibilities of picking up diseases from pets and that includes people in the high risk category, such as cancer patients.
He cites an example that 77% of households which bought a new pet following a cancer diagnosis acquired one with a high risk for transmitting disease. Furthermore, he added that people don't know what behaviors should be avoided, in order to reduce the risk of infections.
As a word of advice to health professionals, co-author of the paper, Jason Stull of Ohio State University wrote in the report that,
"Studies suggest physicians do not regularly ask about pet contact, nor do they discuss the risks of zoonotic diseases with patients, regardless of the patient's immune status."
Fresh from a bath and raring to go
Fresh from a bath and raring to go
The researchers suggested the following guidelines:
• Wear protective gloves to clean aquariums and cages and remove feces
• Thoroughly wash your hands after pet contact
• Discourage pets from licking your face
• Cover playground boxes when not in use
• Regularly clean and disinfect animal cages, feeding areas and bedding
• Place litter boxes away from eating and food preparation areas
• If your immune system is weakened, wait until you’re fully recovered before acquiring a new pet
• Regularly schedule veterinary visits for all pets
• Avoid contact with exotic animals
Bruno Chomel, who researches veterinary public health and zoonoses at University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, but was not part of the study told Reuters by phone that,
“We are not saying that you should get rid of the pet,” he said. But if your immune system is compromised “don’t take in a stray pet or a kitten with fleas, and if you have young toddlers, don’t take an iguana as a pet.”
Reptiles, it seems, are particularly high-risk and can spread disease by walking on exposed surfaces. They carry high rates of salmonella, which is dangerous to young children in particular.
The researchers also advised against buying young puppies and kittens if you have children only a few months old and you should insist upon a strict regime of hand washing with kids generally, as well as teaching them to avoid bites and scratches and follow appropriate behaviors with the pets.
Teresa Phillips
More than half of households in the U.S. have pets and mature, well-kept and healthy cats and dogs are not high-risk.
Discovery News adds,
"The researchers aren't suggesting that people give up their pets. Many studies over the years have shown that pet ownership offers many health benefits, and may even trigger the release of the beneficial brain chemical oxytocin, known as the "love hormone."
"Patients at high risk and their households should have increased vigilance of their pets' health and take precautions to reduce pathogen transmission," the research team cautioned.
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