Ohio State

Reducing the risk of pet-associated zoonotic infections

Right: Dr. Jason Stull, assistant professor of veterinary preventive at The Ohio State University.
Right: Dr. Jason Stull, assistant professor of veterinary preventive at The Ohio State University.

Many people know that diseases can be transmitted from animals to humans, but few consider the risks correlated with household pets. That’s why researchers from Ohio State and partner institutions have compiled data from more than 500 studies to obtain information on how people can reduce their chances of contracting infections from a pet.

Dr. Jason Stull, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, is a lead author of the newly released study, published April 20 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Stull said that bacterial, parasitic and fungal diseases, such as salmonella or roundworms are among the most common illnesses that people acquire from their pets. People with compromised immune systems (children, pregnant women, elderly or those recovering from transplants or cancer treatment, for example) are at the highest risk of acquiring animal-borne infections.

Considering that people own a variety of pets—dogs, cats, rodents, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians—all of which can carry different diseases at different life stages, it is important that individuals speak with their physician about how to be the most secure in their situation. High-risk pets include reptiles and amphibians (such as turtles, snakes and frogs), exotic species (such as hedgehogs and chinchillas), baby poultry (chicks) and rodents, Stull said. Cats and dogs less than 6 months old can also pose a higher risk of transmitting diseases to some groups of people.

“It’s about matching the right species with the right person and taking the appropriate precautions,” Stull said, adding that there are few instances in which someone can’t have the pet they want. “Surveys suggest that most veterinarians and physicians do not regularly discuss zoonotic disease risks with clients, patients or each other. That needs to change if we are going to effectively reduce pet-associated diseases.”

Some general safeguards one can take against acquiring pet-associated zoonotic infections are:

  • wearing protective gloves to clean aquariums and cages
  • proper hand washing after pet contact
  • discouraging pets from face licking
  • covering playground boxes when not in use
  • avoiding contact with higher risk animals such as reptiles, amphibians, and exotic animals
  • regular cleaning and disinfection of animal cages, feeding areas and bedding
  • locating litter boxes away from areas where eating and food prep occur
  • waiting to acquire a new pet until immune status has improved
  • regularly taking your pet to a veterinarian

The study’s co-authors are Jason Brophy, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and J.S. Weese, Ontario Veterinary College. The research was supported in part by the Canadian Institutes of Health.

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