By Dr. Gary A. Borgman, D.V.M.
Veterinarians are frequently asked about the risks of transmission of animal diseases and parasites to humans, especially children. Yes, there is the possibility of transmission from animals to humans but there are simple precautions to minimize the potential of contracting zoonotic diseases.
The most terrifying and fatal zoonotic disease of course is Rabies. In Florida the most common exposure of rabies to people comes from raccoons, feral cats, wild carnivores and bats. We all heard about the recent unfortunate case of a 6-year old Central Florida boy who died from exposure to a bat which had been kept in the house for a week or two. The sad fact is that once rabies reaches the central nervous system, it is 100% fatal. People exposed to the saliva of rabid animal must receive post-exposure vaccinations as soon as possible to prevent the disease from developing. Veterinarians and staff and animal control workers can be vaccinated but there is no positive assurance that it will protect if bitten. I received my primary vaccination over 50 years ago and had a booster about 20 years ago. I had a blood test of my rabies antibody titer in February at the North American Veterinary Conference and it was good. But if ever exposed to a rabid animal, I will still go through the post-exposure vaccination from the health department.
Dog and cat owners are required by law to have their pets properly vaccinated and boosted to be properly licensed. Unfortunately, many pets are not vaccinated and are a serious risk of contracting and eventually transmitting rabies to humans. And then there are the stray (feral) dogs and cats!
A second health risk to people, are the internal parasites of dogs and cats. Infected animals shed numerous ova (eggs) in the feces and the larval stages of these worms can live in the ground for many months. Hookworms eggs hatch and the free-living larvae thrive in warm and moist soil. These larvae can be ingested by mouth or can penetrate the skin of pets and people. The resulting “creeping eruption” of the feet is less common than in years past when more children were barefooted, and most pets had hookworms. The more dangerous animal parasite is roundworms. These eggs can live in the soil for many months and when ingested, the larval stages migrate from the intestines, into the internal organs of pets and humans and can result in blindness. So it is imperative that our pets be kept parasite free for their own health and the health of the people of the household. This is relatively easy to accomplish with current heartworm/intestinal parasite preventative medications. Of course, personal hygiene habits such as hand washing after contact with pets or soil is important but young children are at greater risk.
The complete list of zoonotic disease risk is very long and worrisome and beyond the scope of this article. The short list includes Leptospirosis, ring worm, toxoplasmosis, Salmonellosis, Bartonellosis (cat scratch fever), Lyme disease, MRSA, and Tularemia. I will never have time to discuss all these. I will, however, address some of these in the future at our website www.KissimmeeAnimal Hospital.com and include links to further information.
The veterinarians and staff at Kissimmee Animal Hospital (407-846-3912) and Poinciana Pet Clinic (407-518-0880) are available to discuss any questions about zoonotic diseases or any other pet health issues. We are here to help and to serve.