Editor's note: This the first of a two-part series. Check back next week for Part II.
For many people, pets are more than just companion animals—they are family. They sleep in our beds, share our meals from time to time and lick our faces clean.
But love isn’t the only thing going on between people and pets. Humans can contract many illnesses—called zoonotic diseases—from animals, even our furry family members. Thankfully, simple precautions like education, good hygiene and appropriate veterinary care can greatly reduce your risk.
So, which zoonotic diseases should you be most concerned about? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer a wealth of information on all animal-related transmissible diseases, but if you have household pets, here’s what to keep your eye on.
Keep in mind that the best way to avoid these diseases is to regularly vaccinate, deworm and keep parasites out of your home.
Ringworm: Ringworm is actually caused by a fungus, not a worm. Dogs and cats, especially puppies and kittens, can infect humans.It may be passed from dogs to cats and vice versa. It may also be passed from dogs or cats to humans and vice versa. This disease causes skin lesions in both pets and people, but cats can be asymptomatic carriers. A contaminated environment is the primary source of infection; therefore, cleaning the pet’s environment—and yours—is an important part of control.
Roundworm infection: Roundworm infection is a parasitic disease caused by two species of roundworm larvae. Humans can become infected by swallowing dirt that has been contaminated with dog or cat feces containing roundworm eggs. Most infected people never show symptoms, but some do. This disease can cause stomach pain and organ damage, as well as vision problems as the larvae migrate through the eye. Prevention includes hand washing, regular deworming of pets and prompt disposal of animal feces.
Hookworm infection: Your pet may become infected with hookworms when he or she swallows hookworm larvae. The larvae may also penetrate the skin, which is typically how humans are infected. This causes a local reaction that is red and itchy. Raised, red tracks may appear in the skin where the larvae have been; these tracks may shift on a daily basis, following the larvae’s movements. In rare cases, certain types of hookworms may infect the intestine, causing abdominal pain, discomfort and diarrhea. Infected animals pass hookworm eggs in the stool. These eggs can hatch into larvae and both the eggs and larvae may be found in dirt where the animals have been. Humans may become infected while walking barefoot or when exposed skin comes in contact with the contaminated soil. Prevention includes wearing shoes outside, regular deworming of pets and prompt disposal of animal feces.
Giardia: Giardia is a parasite that lives in the intestines and is passed in the feces. In some humans and animals, it can cause Giardiasis, diarrhea and cramping. Anything that comes in contact with feces from infected humans or animals can be contaminated with the Giardia parasite. Humans become infected when they swallow the parasite. It is not possible to become infected through contact with blood. Once outside the body, Giardia can sometimes survive for weeks or months; because of this, environmental disinfection is important.
Leptospirosis: Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals. The primary mode of transmission from pets to humans is through direct or indirect contact with contaminated animal tissues, organs or urine. While many infections go undetected, other cases may be life-threatening. Leptospirosis can lead to kidney and liver problems in both humans and animals; in people, it can also cause meningitis and respiratory distress. Prevention is achieved with a leptospirosis vaccine, which is generally offered as part of a routine vaccination program. Annual boosters are needed to maintain proper immunity.
Dr. Michele Drake, veterinarian and owner of , has been treating pets in Encinitas for over 20 years. For more information on pet health or to schedule an appointment for your pet, please call The Drake Center at (760) 753-9393 or visit www.thedrakecenter.com.