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Zoonotic Diseases: The Shared Threat

What are zoonotic diseases?

Owning a pet can be a wonderful, rewarding experience for you and your family. However, pets can transmit diseases that may be harmful to humans - especially young children and people with certain medical conditions. These are called zoonotic diseases or zoonoses (pronounced zoo-NO-sees).

There are two types of zoonotic diseases that concern pet owners: illnesses that can be transmitted from animals to humans - like leptospirosis - and diseases that infect both people and pets - like Lyme disease. That's why it's important to take precautions to protect both your family and your pet from zoonotic diseases. You share many things with your pet, but disease shouldn't be one of them.

Zoonotic Diseases that affect People

Cat scratch disease - Also known as "cat scratch fever," this flea-borne infection is typically transmitted from a cat's scratch or bite. Signs include pimples at the scratch site and swollen lymph nodes that may persist for six weeks or longer.

Ehrlichiosis - Transmitted by ticks, this bacterial disease can cause fever, muscle aches, vomiting and other, more serious symptoms. As many as half of all patients require hospitalization.

Giardia - People become infected when they drink water containing the parasite Giardia lamblia. You can also become infected by putting something in your mouth that has come into contact with a pet's stool. Signs include diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea.

Leptospirosis - "Lepto" is a bacterial disease spread by contact with urine from an infected animal, including dogs, raccoons, squirrels and skunks. Lepto can cause high fever, severe headache, vomiting and, if left untreated, kidney damage or live failure.

Lyme disease - Spread by ticks, Lyme disease can cause arthritis and kidney damage. The number of Lyme disease cases has nearly tripled since 1990, and the disease is now found in virtually every state.

Rabies - This well-know disease is caused by a virus found in the saliva of infected animals and transmitted to people by bites. It is variably fatal if not promptly treated.

Ringworm - Ringworm is a fungal infection - not a worm - transmitted by contact with the skin or fur of an infected dog or cat. Signs include a bald patch of scaly skin on the scalp, or a ring-shaped, itchy rash on the skin.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever - A very serious, tick-borne disease that causes fever, headache and muscle pain followed by a rash. May be fatal is left untreated.

Toxoplasmosis - This is a parasitic disease spread by contact with cat feces in soil or litter, although the major route of transmission is contaminated meat. It can cause serious health problems in pregnant women or in people with compromised immune systems.

Simple Ways to Protect Your Family

1. Wash your hands often when touching, playing or caring for pets.

2. Never handle the stool of any animal without wearing disposable gloves or using a plastic barrier.

3. Avoid kissing your pet or letting your pet lick your face.

4. Do daily "tick checks" on yourself, your kids and your pet. If you find a tick, use tweezers to slowly pull it out. After removing the tick, immerse it in rubbing alcohol. Wash the tick bite wound and your hands with soap and water.

5. If you are pregnant, as someone else in the family to clean the cat's litter box. If you must do it yourself, wear gloves and immediately wash your hands after changing the litter.

6. Wash your hands after gardening or working in soil where pets my have relieved themselves.

7. If you are scratched or bitten, wash the area with soap and water right away and administer first aid. If you are concerned, contact your healthcare professional.

Proven Ways to Protect Your Pet

Many zoonotic disease can be prevented by vaccination. Vaccines are now available for leptospirosis, Lyme disease, rabies and giardia.

In addition, twice-a-year wellness exams performed by your vet can help detect and treat zoonotic infections before they become serious, or are transmitted to other pets or people in your household.

Don't forget to take these other steps to protect your pet:

1. Ask your vet about tick and flea control

2. Brush and inspect your pet for ticks after each outing

3. Don't let your pet drink from standing water outdoors

4. Don't let your pet come into contact with feces or urine of other animals

5. Remove food, garbage or nesting materials that may attract disease-carrying wildlife.

To learn more about how to maintain a healthy environment for both you and your pet, make any appointment with Howard Elrod and come visit Healthy Touch Whole Health Care today!

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