Zoonoses are infectious diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. There are a number of different zoonotic agents, including parasites and fungi. These can cause a range of conditions in animals and will also cause a variety of conditions in humans. There is no correlation between the severity of animal infection and human infection, and the conditions suffered by humans will depend on the parasite, transmission and the person’s age, health and lifestyle. Zoonotic diseases in humans can range from being asymptomatic to causing blindness or death.
There are a number of ways in which humans can become infected by zoonotic diseases, from direct ingestion of the parasite, through to contact with a vector or an intermediate host.
Zoonoses pose a serious human health risk, as well as the initial risk they pose to the animal or pet. It is important for pet owners and any other people at risk of contracting a zoonotic disease to be educated about the health risks and preventative measures which can be taken to reduce the risk of contracting a disease.
The following information will provide advice on how best to prevent zoonotic infection in pets and humans.
Preventing Zoonotic Infection
Protocols for the control of parasitic infection should be communicated to veterinary and para-veterinary staff and consistently applied. Awareness of parasitic zoonoses, including clinical manifestations in people and particularly children, should be created as a minimum in the medical profession through information brochures. Cooperation between the medical and veterinary profession should be encouraged wherever possible and its benefits underlined in case of zoonoses.
Pet Owner Education
Pet owners should be informed about the potential health risks of parasitic infection, not only to their pets but also to family members and all people living within the action radius of their pets. Brochures in veterinary practices, pet shops, posters or specific websites are useful tools to facilitate this. Regular deworming or joining "pet health-check programmes" should be made clear to the general public by veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses and other animal health professionals. Responsible pet ownership can remove public health concerns.
To see the information about zoonotic diseases on the pet owner section of this website please click here.
Owner Considerations in Preventing Zoonotic Diseases
- Practicing good personal hygiene, particularly washing hands after handling pets, gardening and before eating food
- Controlling pet parasite infections through repeated treatments and/or regular diagnostic testing
- Reducing, where possible, the risk of the pet acquiring infection
- Cleaning up pet faeces regularly to reduce environmental contamination with infective parasite stages - do not dispose of the faeces or cat litter in recyclable waste or compost
- Minimising exposure, especially of children, to potentially contaminated environments
- Grooming dogs regularly to minimise the risk of coat contamination
Any person at risk of exposure to zoonotic parasites or any other zoonotic pathogen should be advised of the health risks and made aware that such risks are generally increased with conditions such as pregnancy, existing illness or immunosuppression. This information should be made available through physicians and veterinarians, without a need for a medical history of the client and his/her family.
In this respect special care should be taken in the case of:
- immunocompromised individuals such as elderly people, diabetics, people with HIV-infection, patients undergoing immunosuppressive chemotherapy, organ transplantation, or treatment for autoimmune diseases
- other susceptible groups such as pregnant women, babies and toddlers and the mentally handicapped
- people with specific occupational risk such as farmers, kennel workers and hunters, nurses and other animal health professionals
Key Parasites to look out for:
- Fleas: capable of transferring easily between animals and humans. Any kind of flea infestation in households, especially those with young children, carries the zoonotic risk of flea-borne infections, such as Bartonella spp. Eradication of flea infestation is also of importance simply for public health reasons.
- Ticks: there is no direct risk associated with ticks attached to a dog or cat. Ticks manually removed from a dog or cat should be disposed of carefully. This is important to ensure that humans are not exposed to any fluid from the tick potentially containing pathogens and that ticks cannot subsequently find another human host.
- Sarcoptes mite (Scabies)
- Cheyletiella mites
- Harvest mites
- Phlebotomine sandflies
- Echinococcus granulosus
- Echinococcus multilocularis
- Dirofilaria repens
- Dirofilaria immitis
- Thelazia callipaeda
- Dipylidium caninum
- Toxascaris leonina
- Malassezia pachydermatis