Pet-borne infections: Taking care of a family pet is a great learning experience for children since it teaches them responsibility, kindness, and respect for living beings. Just like adults, children can also benefit from the company, affection, and relationship they share with their pets.
But animals in general and pets, in particular, can transmit infections to humans, especially children. So if you’re considering a pet or if you already have one, it’s important to know how to protect your family from infections you could pass on to them.
How do pets spread infections?
Just like humans, all animals are carriers of germs. The most common diseases among pets (such as distemper, canine parvovirus, heartworm disease, or dirofilariasis) cannot be transmitted to humans.
But pets are also carriers of certain bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi that can cause illness in the humans they infect. Humans develop these diseases transmitted by other animals when they receive a bite or scratch or when they come into contact with animal droppings, saliva, or dander. These infections can influence people in a wide range of ways.
They are most worrisome when they affect young children, infants, pregnant women, and people whose immune systems are weakened by disease or other conditions. Babies and children under the age of 5 are most at risk because their immune systems are still developing. In addition, some infections that only make adults mildly ill can be much more serious when they affect these ages.
Healthy families, healthy pets
But you also don’t need to give up on getting a pet or kick your family’s furry friend out of the house. Pets can enrich family life and, if a series of precautions are taken, children can be protected from the diseases they transmit.
Protecting your family from pet-borne infections starts before your pet comes home. For example, reptiles and amphibians should not be allowed in a home where infants and/or young children live.
Also, consider the health status and age of your children before purchasing a pet. A pet that requires frequent handling is not recommended for any immunosuppressed child (such as children affected by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, those with cancer undergoing chemotherapy, or those frequently on medication ). prednisone Children with eczema should avoid aquariums.
Dogs and cats
Dogs and cats are the most popular pets but they can be carriers of infections such as:
- Campylobacter infection (or campylobacteriosis). It can be spread by pets that carry the bacterium Campylobacter jejuni, which causes diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever in humans. The microbes can be available in the intestinal system of canines, felines, hamsters, birds, and some livestock. A person can get this infection if they come into contact with contaminated water, feces, undercooked (rare) meat, or unpasteurized milk.
- In the US, more than two million cases of Campylobacter infection, and the bacteria C. jejuni, which occur annually are considered the main cause of current bacterial gastroenteritis. Campylobacter infections are contagious, especially among members of the same family and among children attending daycare or preschool. This infection is treated with antibiotics.
- Cat scratch disease. It can occur when a person is bitten or scratched by a cat previously infected with the Bartonella henselae bacteria. Its symptoms include swelling and discomfort in the lymph nodes, fever, headache, and fatigue, symptoms that usually subside without any treatment. Still, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics in severe cases. Feline scratch sickness seldom causes long-haul confusion.
- The rage. This serious disease is caused by a virus that enters the body through a bite or wound contaminated by the saliva of an infected animal. Creatures that can convey the rabies infection incorporate canines, felines, raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes. The widespread use of the rabies vaccine in dogs and cats has reduced the transmission of rabies in these species and also in humans. Human rabies is extremely rare in the United States, and there is a rabies vaccine to be given after a bite from a potentially rabid animal.
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It is transmitted by ticks infected with the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsia. They are a type of tick that dogs usually carry. Its symptoms include high fever, chills, muscle aches, and headache, as well as a rash that spreads over the wrists, ankles, palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and trunk. Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which can be treated with antibiotics, is most common in the southern parts of the Midwest United States and the mid-and southern Atlantic coast of the United States.
- The ringworm is a skin infection caused by various types of fungi present in the soil and on the skin of humans and pets. Children can get it from touching infected animals, such as dogs and cats. Cutaneous ringworm (or tinea corporis) usually consists of a round, dry, scaly area of skin, surrounded by a red outline and raised above the surface of the skin. When it affects the scalp, the area may be scaly, red, and/or swollen. There are usually bald spots. Ringworm is treated with antifungal (fungal) medication, either in the form of a shampoo, cream, or a medication that is taken orally (by mouth).
- Toxocariasis. It is a disease caused by the parasitic worm Toxocara., which lives in the intestines of dogs and cats. The eggs of these worms are eliminated through the feces of dogs and cats, which often contaminate the land where children play. When a child ingests contaminated soil, the eggs hatch in the child’s intestine, and the larvae spread to other body organs, an infection called “visceral larva migrans.” Its symptoms include fever, cough or wheeze, enlarged liver, rash, and swollen lymph nodes. Symptoms may go away without treatment, or your doctor may prescribe medication to kill the larvae. When larvae from the intestine make their way through the bloodstream to the eye, this condition is called ocular toxocariasis and can lead to permanent vision loss.
- Toxoplasmosis. This disease is contracted after coming into contact with a parasite present in cat feces. In most healthy people, toxoplasmosis infection does not cause any symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they may include swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, muscle aches, fever, sore throat, and rash. In pregnant women, toxoplasmosis can cause miscarriages and premature births, as well as blindness and serious illness in the newborn. Therefore, pregnant women should avoid coming into contact with cat droppings. People whose immune systems are weakened by diseases such as HIV infection or cancer are at higher risk of serious complications if they get a toxoplasmosis infection.
- Dog and cat bites. Dog and cat bites can become infected and cause significant problems, especially when they affect the face or hands. Cat bites tend to be worse, in part because they are puncture wounds and deeper. Significant bite wounds should be washed thoroughly. These types of injuries usually require treatment in a doctor’s office or an emergency medical service; sometimes antibiotics have to be given.
Birds, even those that live in cages, can transmit the following diseases:
- Cryptococcosis. This is a disease contracted when a person inhales organisms in bird droppings (particularly pigeon droppings), and it can cause pneumonia. People whose immune systems are weakened by diseases such as HIV infection or cancer are at increased risk of contracting this disease and developing serious complications, such as meningitis.
- Psittacosis. Also known as “parrot fever,” it is a bacterial disease that can be contracted by coming into contact with infected bird feces or dust that accumulates in bird cages. Its symptoms include cough, high fever, and headache. It is treated with antibiotics.
Reptiles and amphibians
Reptiles (from lizards and lizards to snakes and turtles) and amphibians (such as frogs, toads, and salamanders) put children at risk of:
- Salmonellosis. The feces of reptiles and amphibians contain the bacteria Salmonella. People can get this infection by touching the animal’s skin, its cage, or other contaminated surfaces. Salmonellosis causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. Young children are at risk for the most serious forms of this disease, including dehydration, meningitis, and septicemia (infection of the blood).
Handling and caring for rodents, such as hamsters and gerbils, or fish can put children at risk of contracting:
- Lymphocytic choriomeningitis. People can get lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus by inhaling particles from the urine, feces, or saliva of infected rodents, such as mice and hamsters. Lymphocytic choriomeningitis can cause flu-like symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, nausea, and vomiting, and can even lead to the development of meningitis (inflammation of the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord) and encephalitis(swelling of the brain). As with most viruses, there is no specific treatment, but some patients may need to be hospitalized. As with toxoplasmosis, lymphocytic choriomeningitis can be transmitted from an infected mother to her fetus.
- Mycobacterium marinum infection. This infection can be contracted by people exposed to contaminated water from aquariums or swimming pools. Although it is usually a mild infection that affects only the skin, it can be more serious in people with HIV infection or who have a weakened immune system.
Precautions to follow when adopting or buying a pet
If you intend to adopt or purchase a pet, make sure the breeder, animal shelter, or pet store you go to is well-licensed and vaccinates all animals. A well-reputed breeder should be affiliated with a national or local breeder’s club or association (such as the “American Kennel Club” in the United States). Contact an animal protection association (such as the Humane Society of the United States) or your pet’s future veterinarian to find out about the closest animal shelters in your area.
As soon as you choose your family pet, take it to the vet for proper vaccinations and a physical exam. Don’t forget to re-vaccinate your pet according to the vaccination schedule recommended by your veterinarian; This will keep your pet healthy and reduce the chances that you can pass infections to your children.
Read More: Pet Safety During Emergencies
You will also need to feed your pet nutritious animal food daily (ask your vet for information on this) and offer freshwater. Avoid feeding your pet raw meat because it could be a major source of infection, and don’t let your pet drink toilet water, as many infections can be transmitted through saliva, urine, and feces.
Limit your young children’s contact with stray dogs that hunt and kill animals, because animals that eat infected meat can pick up an infection and pass it on to humans
Caring for a pet safely
Here are some tips to help your family care for your pet safely:
- Always wash your hands, especially after touching the pet, handling its food, cleaning its cage, eating or drinking bowls, or the litter box. Wear gloves when cleaning or picking up your pet’s droppings and, if it’s a bird, wear a dust mask over your mouth and nose when cleaning the animal’s cage so you don’t inhale particles from its urine or feces. Do not let children clean the cage or litter box unless they have adult supervision or have demonstrated the ability to do so safely and responsibly (again, they should wash their hands when finished).
- Try not to kiss or contacting your pet with your mouth, as diseases can be sent through spit. Additionally, don’t impart food to your pet.
- Keep the area where your pet lives clean. If your pet poops outside, pick it up regularly and don’t let your children play in it.
- Don’t let your pet into places where food is prepared or handled, and don’t bathe your pet or clean its cage or aquarium in the kitchen sink or bathtub. Wash the pet outside or talk to your vet to recommend a professional specialized in this task.
- Avoid unknown animals or those that appear to be sick. Never adopt a wild animal as if it were domestic.
Watch your children carefully when they interact with pets. Young children are more likely to get infections from pets because they crawl on the floor, kiss pets, share food with them, or put their fingers in their mouths and then bring them to their own. Also, if your child goes to a petting zoo, a farm, or a friend’s house where animals live, make sure they know how important it is to wash their hands.
To ensure the comfort of your pet and the safety of your family, do good flea and tick control. Fleas and ticks can carry diseases that are very easy to pass on to children. Some medications are taken orally (by mouth) to control fleas and ticks; avoid using flea collars if you have young children because children can touch them and get sick from inhaling the chemicals they contain.
Keep an eye out for regular fleas and ticks on your pet, as well as bites and scratches, which can make your pet more vulnerable to infection. Keep your pet on a leash when you go outside, and keep your pet away from animals that appear sick or may not be vaccinated.
And lastly, get your pet spayed or neutered. Being spayed or neutered will reduce contact with other animals that could be infected, especially if your pet leaves the house.