A Zoonotic disease, is one that, by definition, “is transmissible from animals to humans under natural conditions and can also be an infection or disease that is transmissible between animals and
humans”. This is particularly important as the strength of the human-animal bond continues to grow and develop between ourselves and our companion animals.
Studies have shown that not only do people in the community lack general knowledge about the scope, importance and prevalence of zoonotic disease, but more alarmingly, a survey of physicians themselves, has found a lack adequate knowledge and awareness of zoonotic disease as well as general discomfort in addressing and communicating these public health threats and concerns to their human patients.
In contrast, accredited veterinary schools are required to provide instructional education about zoonotic disease to veterinary students as a requirement of being recognized as an accreditated school. In particular, courses highlighting the importance of epidemiology, zoonoses, food safety, the complex interrelationship of animals and the environment and the overall contribution of veterinarians to general public health is a curriculum requirement for most, if not all, veterinary students. No such accreditation requirement exists in U.S. medical schools.
So, how does this affect you, the pet owner?
Well, considering over 50% of all US households have one or more pets, the potential risk of contracting a zoonotic disease is a clear and present concern.
What are some examples of Zoonotic Diseases?
The list is exceedingly long, but here are some of the more well-know examples of zoonotic diseases: HIV, Ebola, Bubonic plague, Rabies, intestinal parasites (giardia, roundworms, tapeworms, etc), ringworm, salmonella, Lyme Disease, influenza, E. Coli, Dirofilariasis (heartworm disease), chlamydia, bartonella, anthrax, leprosy, tuberculosis, West Nile, Zika virus, eastern/western/venezuelan encephildes and the list goes on and on.
So what can you do to lower the risk of contracting a zoonotic disease?
1. Ensure you are properly handling, storing and cooking all food intended for human consumption. The importance of this has been highlighted with the recent Raw Food pet diet trend (not to mention this is NOT a nutritionally complete nor well- balanced approach to meeting your pet’s nutritional needs).
2. Good personal hygiene and hand-washing practices.
3. Ensuring all pets are on monthly, year-round flea, tick and heartworm prevention. Protecting yourself against insect vectors is also extremely important.
4. Prompt yard clean up/litter box maintenance practices.
5. Maintaining your pet’s annual/semi-annual immunizations. Maintaining your immunization status is equally important.
For more information, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Companion Animal Hospital’s friendly and knowledgeable veterinary staff members. Additional reading materials, a complete list of zoonotic diseases and references for this article can also be found at www.cdc.gov.
Written By: Dr. Christine Tuma
Companion Animal Hospital Round Lake