With spring in the air, there’s no better time to make sure
your pets are current on their immunizations and medications, particularly if
they spend time outdoors, advised Dr. Erin Washburn, a pediatrician with Novant
Health Randolph Pediatrics in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Many pets can get diseases carried by fleas or exposure to
other pets that are sick and then pass them along to family members. Here a few
common sicknesses pets can spread to people:
Cat scratch fever
Cat scratch fever is more than a well-known song by rocker
Ted Nugent. It is a bacterial disease that people can catch from their pet
Also known as bartonellosis, cat scratch fever usually
occurs after a scratch or bite from a cat causing a mild infection where the
wound occurred. Most often it causes flu-like symptoms, including swollen
lymph nodes, fever, headache, fatigue and diminished appetite.
percent of cats carry the bacteria, according
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s more prevalent in
kittens than adult cats – and they’re more likely to scratch and bite when
Since the disease is
transmitted from cat to cat by fleas, take steps to control fleas on your pets
and in your house. Don’t let your cat lick any open wounds you may have and
wash cat scratches right away with soap and water.
We don’t see a lot of patients getting sick from their home pets,” Washburn
said. “Sometimes we see children after they’ve been bitten and need
antibiotics to protect them from the bacteria in the animal’s mouth. I have
only seen a handful of cat scratch cases.”
Zoonotic illnesses are diseases that pets can pass on to
their owners. Some can be more dangerous than others to human beings,
particularly people with compromised immune systems.
Rabies, for instance, is fatal if it isn’t treated. Rabies
is a virus that is most often transmitted by a rabid animal bite. Although your
dog or cat can spread rabies, it is most often spread by wild animals such as raccoons, skunks,
bats and foxes, according to the CDC.
Rabies attacks the nervous symptoms. Early symptoms are
often flu-like with fever and headache. As the disease progresses, symptoms
might include anxiety, insomnia, confusion and hypersalivation. The CDC warns
that death usually occurs within days of these latter symptoms.
To protect yourself and your pet, make sure your pet is
current on its rabies vaccine. Keep your pet away from wild animals and don’t
try to remove wild animals yourself from your home environment. Call animal
People who may have been exposed to rabies through a wild
animal bite will receive a series of rabies vaccine shots. Every year
approximately 40,000 Americans are treated will receive the rabies prevention
treatment, according to the CDC.
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a common parasite. More
than 60 million people in the U.S. carry the parasite and aren’t sick,
according to the National Institutes of Health. However, pregnant women who
contract the parasite can pass it along to their babies, and in severe cases,
it can cause birth defects.
One of the ways that the parasite is transmitted
is through cat feces, which is why pregnant women are warned not to clean cat
litter boxes. People can also come into contact with the parasite when
gardening and not properly washing their hands after handling dirt.
Now that doesn’t mean you have to get rid of Felix. If you
have to change the cat box, wear disposable gloves and then wash your hands afterward.
Don’t let your cat go outside, says the CDC. The infection in the cat will
only last a short time so it won’t be able to spread it after a few weeks.
Lyme disease can’t be transmitted to people directly from their pets but
people can get Lyme disease from the ticks a dog or outdoor cat picks up. Ticks
carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.
Signs that a person may have been exposed to Lyme disease
after a tick bit include a red rash that looks like a bull’s-eye. Initially, symptoms are fatigue,
chills, fever, joint pain and swollen glands, according to the CDC.
Later, people may show symptoms of Bell’s palsy, a loss of
muscle tone on the face, severe headaches and painful swelling of the joints.
If untreated, the CDC estimates that 60 percent of people
exposed to Lyme disease will develop arthritis. Fortunately, if treated
promptly with antibiotics, people can make a full recovery.
Each year, approximately 30,000
cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed. The vast majority or 95 percent of confirmed
cases are concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest.
To reduce your risk from tick bites, get veterinarian-approved
tick medicines for your dog. If you go hiking, cover your arms and legs with
long pants and shirts and spray on an insect repellant.
Hookworm and roundworm are common intestinal parasites in
puppies and kittens. Pets will pass the worms’ larvae through their feces and
people can pick them up through skin contact by walking outside barefoot.
Symptoms include itchiness and rash from where larvae
entered the skin. The parasites can cause abdominal cramping, nausea, fever,
weight loss and anemia. Doctors can prescribe medications that will kill the
parasites. To prevent the problem from spreading from your pet to you, have
your kittens and puppies dewormed by a vet.
Ringworm is not actually a worm, but a fungal infection that
is common in children. People can transmit the contagious infection from one to
another by touching infected items, but they can also get it from pets. Cats in
particular can spread ringworm,
according to the NIH.
Ringworm manifests itself in itchy red, scaly patches that
can ooze at the affected area. People can treat ringworm with over-the-counter
anti-fungal medications but may need to see a doctor for antibiotics to treat
skin infections arising from ringworm. If you see skin lesions on your pet,
take him to the vet. Make sure to wash sheets, clothes and anything that came
in contact with the infected person or pet.
Should you worry?
Pets can share all sorts of illnesses with their owners,
including poison ivy and pink eye, but they cannot spread diseases like feline
leukemia, canine influenza and feline herpes.
Plus, having a pet has been proven in numerous studies to
improve owners’ health.
Take the recommended precautions to safeguard your family
against pet diseases and keep your pet – and home – healthy and happy.