Can People Catch Diseases from Animals? Part 2

Dog eating an old bone

In the first of this series, we looked at what a zoonosis was, and the ‘worst case scenario’ of a rabies outbreak. In this second part, we’re going to look at some of the more common conditions that vets (and doctors!) in the UK see in general practice day in, day out.

 

Worms

Worms are nasty little creatures that live inside the guts of our pets. Unfortunately for us, many of these parasites will happily live in ours too. Worm eggs are commonly ingested when we eat food contaminated with animal faeces; the eggs will then hatch out in our intestines and can cause disease.

The diseases caused by worms caught from animals vary wildly. Some cause no disease at all, some can result in anaemia and weakness, other cause hunger. Some infect muscles and cause pain, and others infect eyes and can lead to blindness. Overall, they’re quite unpleasant little critters, and it is important that you protect yourself and your pet from them.

It is good practice anyway to always wash your hands after coming into contact with animals, but this is especially true to prevent parasites. Even microscopic bits of faeces can contain worm eggs, which you can unknowingly ingest. Do this before you eat anything, and don’t put your hands near your mouth before then. You should also try to avoid letting animals lick your face (think where their tongue might just have been…) as this can cause infection too. Make sure to clean up their faeces as soon as you can, and wash your hands again! Ensure all food is thoroughly cooked to kill any eggs that might be lurking.

For your pets, we recommend regular deworming treatments – the specific treatments vary, but regular and effective deworming can reduce the risk of your pet catching worms, and thus you as well. These methods are never 100% effective, but a little preventative treatment can definitely reduce the risk of us ingesting these horrible little worms.

 

Salmonella and Campylobacter

Salmonella and Campylobacter are two bacteria that every cook should be aware of, as they can cause a nasty bout of food poisoning. Many chickens will be infected with Salmonella or Campylobacter, and contact with live chickens can result in infection if precautions, like protective clothing and handwashing, are not taken.

However, for the vast majority of people who do not cuddle chickens every day, the biggest risk is in the kitchen. These bacteria are commonly found on raw poultry and eggs, so you can still catch zoonotic diseases without ever coming into contact with a live animal. Food hygiene has massively improved in the last few decades, but there is still a great risk of catching these bugs from raw produce. A person infected with either will likely have vomiting, diarrhoea, pain, fever, dehydration and weakness. They can be fatal if left untreated.

No one wants to endure a weekend of food poisoning, so always make sure chicken is thoroughly cooked through. Never wash raw chicken, as this can spread the bacteria around in water drops. Make sure to wash all cooking equipment thoroughly in hot soapy water after use, and try and have separate utensils for raw meat and other food. The UK has recently declared that its Red Lion branded eggs are free from Salmonella and safe to eat raw (the UK’s Red Lion eggs come from chickens that are vaccinated against Salmonella – Editor), but if you are still worried, cook them through too. With a little hygiene, dealing with chickens, live or dead, will heavily reduce the risk of a dodgy tummy.

Oh, and remember that dogs can be infected with Salmonella and Campylobacter too, but they don’t usually show symptoms. They can and do spread the bugs around the household, so if you like to feed them raw poultry, take precautions with hygiene!

 

Leptospirosis

Our next zoonosis is Leptospirosis, or Lepto for short. You may have heard of this one at the vets, as we recommend dogs receive a yearly Lepto vaccine. Leptospirosis is a bacterium spread from animals to humans, primarily in urine. The greatest risk to us is when we swim in water infected with Lepto, as urine from wild animals, and thus the bacteria, may be ingested. Unvaccinated dogs can catch Lepto and carry the bacteria in their urine as well, but this risk of humans catching it from pet dogs is lower.

A person infected with Leptospirosis will have a headache, be very tired, may have swollen joints, jaundice, chest pain and can even start to cough up blood. Anyone with these signs should see a doctor straight away. Your dog can have all these signs as well if it catches Lepto, which is why the yearly booster vaccine is so important. Protecting your dog will also protect you, so make sure they are up to date!

 

Cat Scratch Disease

The cleverly named Cat Scratch Disease (CSD) is a disease spread by cats, when they scratch… fairly self-explanatory! CSD is caused by a bacterium, called Bartonella, which many cats will carry with no symptoms. However, when a person is scratched or bitten by an infected cat, the bacteria can enter the blood and start to cause disease. It can also be spread to people by parasites that like to suck blood, such as fleas and ticks.

A person infected with Bartonella may have swelling and pain around the cat/insect bite, as well as swollen nearby lymph nodes. The person can also be stiff, sore, have headaches, pain, trembling, chills and fever. Though it can resolve itself with time, if you are bitten or scratched by a cat, it is best to visit the doctor – if they suspect CSD, they may prescribe antibiotics. Preventing CSD means being careful around feral or stray cats, which may bite or scratch you. You can also reduce the risk of catching it from your own cat by ensuring good flea and tick control.

 

Today’s zoonoses are the common culprits… next time we will be taking a look at some of the rarer and emerging zoonoses, that you might be less aware of.

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