A zoonotic disease or zoonosis is an infection or infestation that is transmitted from animals to humans, and capable of causing illness.
All pet owners are at risk of becoming infected with a zoonotic disease. Those at increased risk include infants and young children, elderly individuals, pregnant women, diabetics, people with HIV infections, and/or patients undergoing immunosuppressive therapy such as chemotherapy.
One mission of veterinary services is to prevent zoonotic disease transmission from pets to Soldiers and their Families. The staff offers diagnostic techniques and treatments aimed at preventing disease in pets to decrease the owner’s risk of exposure. Common zoonotic diseases in pets include the following:
Large roundworms of dogs and cats are common. (They resemble spaghetti in the pet’s stool). The most important species of this intestinal parasite is Toxocara canis, because its larvae (baby worms) can migrate throughout a human’s body if an egg is ingested – possibly causing blindness, organ failure or even death. This condition in man is known as visceral larva migrans. It can be prevented by having your pet’s stool checked for eggs and having your pet treated. Normal washing hands also can prevent infection to humans.
Another species of roundworm, Baylisascaris, is carried by raccoons. The transmission to humans is the same – through ingestion of infective eggs shed in raccoon feces. Once ingested, the eggs hatch and the larvae travel through the human tissue into the brain and other parts of the nervous system, causing severe damage or even death.
One common way children may be infected with this raccoon roundworm is eating sand from sand boxes. Cover sandboxes at night and watch children closely so they do not ingest the sand.
Hookworms are another common intestinal parasite of dogs and cats. There are two important species of hookworm that can infect man, Ancylostoma caninum and Ancylostoma braziliense.
Skin penetration, usually on bare feet, leads to a condition in man known as cutaneous larva migrans. The larvae can be picked up by walking barefoot through a yard infested with hookworm larvae. Diagnosis by stool sample and treatment are the best prevention, as is practicing normal hygiene.
Sarcoptic mange is caused by coming into direct contact with an animal infested with Sarcoptes scabiei var canis, a mite that burrows or tunnels in the skin. This is a highly contagious zoonotic disease.
Diagnosis is by skin scrapings and sudden onset itching (humans and animals). Treatments are available.
Ringworm is an infection of the skin caused by a fungus from a group of fungi collectively called Dermatophytes. These fungi are found worldwide, and all domestic animals (including humans) are susceptible.
It is primarily transmitted by direct contact with infected individuals, grooming equipment, furn-
iture and tack.
Diagnostic media are available to detect the fungus, and treatments are effective.
Rabies is a fatal viral infection transmitted via a bite or scratch from an infected animal. Rabies is controlled in domestic animals by vaccinations. This is such an important zoonotic disease that laws are written to ensure compliance with the vaccination policies. Ensure pets are kept current on their rabies vaccination, and keep them away from wild animals, especially raccoons, skunks and bats.
Once diagnosed, most zoonotic diseases can be treated in animal populations; however, prevention is key to decreasing the spread of such conditions.
Pets that are dewormed, receive routine vaccinations, and are placed on a monthly heartworm preventative and flea control year round are at much less risk of transmitting parasites that are harmful to humans.
Practicing good hygiene is essential. Avoid walking barefoot outside, and wash your hands after petting animals and before eating.
Reducing environmental contamination by cleaning up animal waste daily, covering children’s sandboxes when not in use, and washing picnic tables prior to use can aid in decreasing exposure.
More information is available on web sites for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/healthypets and the Companion Animal Parasite Council at www.capcvet.org.
For help or if you think your pet might be infected, contact the Fort Drum Veterinary Treatment Facility at 772-4269.
Fort Drum Veterinary Services