Pet owners should be more aware of the risk of disease spread by their animal companions, experts have warned.
Infections from pets are a real threat to vulnerable groups such as newborn babies, children with leukemia, cancer patients, and anyone with a weak immune system, it is claimed.
A new review of “zoonotic” animal-to-human infection suggests that many people including doctors are not taking the risk sufficiently seriously.
Dr Jason Stull, one of the authors from the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at Ohio State University in the US, said: “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.”
All pets can potentially transmit diseases to people, the experts point out.
Dogs, cats, rodents, reptiles and amphibians are all capable of transmitting Salmonella, Clostridium difficile (C. diff), Campylobacter jejuni and other sickness-inducing bugs.
Pets can also spread parasites such as hookworm, roundworm or Toxoplasma.
Infections could be acquired from bites, scratches, saliva or contact with faeces, said the researchers writing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Reptiles and amphibians were said to present a special risk because they could transmit disease indirectly via contaminated surfaces.
The authors wrote: “Reptiles and amphibians are estimated to be responsible for 11% of all sporadic Salmonella infections among patients less than 21 years of age, and direct contact with such animals is not required for zoonotic transmission.
“In one study, 31% of reptile-associated salmonellosis cases occurred in children less than five years of age and 17% occurred in children aged one year or younger; these findings highlight the heightened risk in children and the potential for reptile-associated Salmonella to be transmitted without direct contact with the animal or its enclosure.”
Despite the danger, 77% of households acquired a high-risk pet after a cancer diagnosis, said Dr Stull.
The experts suggested the following tips to reduce the chances of picking up an infection from your pet:
:: Wear protective gloves to clean aquariums and cages.
:: Handwash properly after pet contact.
:: Discourage face-licking by pets.
:: Avoid contact with exotic animals.
:: Regularly clean and disinfect animal cages, feeding areas and bedding.
:: Locate litter boxes or trays away from areas where eating and food preparation take place.
:: If immunocompromised, wait until your immune system has strengthened before acquiring a new pet.
:: Regularly schedule vet visits for all your pets.
Dr Stull added: “Given the health benefits of animal ownership and the reluctance of patients to give up their pets, resources highlight the importance of following specific precautions.
” Patients at high risk and their households should have increased vigilance of their pets’ health and take precautions to reduce pathogen transmission.”
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