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Zoonotic diseases......Take care about pets

Posted by GUILBERT RAJ P Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I once met a person who said her family consists of four members. Next she said she's an only child. Doing the math was easy, so I couldn't help but ask about the two-member discrepancy. "Oh! The cats of course!" was the answer that I got, but did not expect.Like this person, pet owners have for a long time confessed to feeling that their pets are part of their families. While planning their meals, their outings and their travel, some form of arrangement must include these non-human family members. While understanding the responsibilities of keeping the pet healthy, very few, however, believe that they can get sick from their own pets. Trips to the vet are in fact a tool not only to keep the animal healthy, but also to keep the owner safe from zoonotic diseases.
"Zoonotic diseases are the diseases that are transmitted between man and animal. These diseases are transmitted both ways," explained Dr. Rabei Saleh, Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Faculty of Veterinarian Medicine in Suez Canal University .
This disease does not have to be physical. Dr. Saleh explained that even being frightened of animals could be considered a zoonotic disease. However, zoonotic diseases are commonly defined as contagious diseases transmitted by microscopic living organisms.

With the world now facing a potential pandemic as bird flu spreads, pet owners are becoming more aware of the latent danger that lurks behind their beloved pets.These dangers depend on the kind of pet as well as the kind of health-care it receives. Dr. Saleh emphasized the importance of frequent trips to the vet among other needed precautionary measures.

Cats and Dogs
Rabies is the disease most commonly transmitted from cats and dogs to humans. Dr. Saleh noted that pets should be vaccinated annually against the disease from the age of four years. Animals that are kept at home are safe from the disease. However, the problem can arise when they are taken outside, like when you take your dog out for a walk. "If the animal is bitten by another infected animal it can contract the disease," he explained.

When dealing with rabies, it is important to note two things, Dr. Saleh said. The first is that the disease is only transferable through biting. The second is that a quick response is vital should this occur."If you have a dog and notice any kind of behavioral changes such as mad behavior or lack of recognition of the owner, you need to immediately send the dog to a veterinarian hospital. If for any reason medical attention for the animal can't be sought, then it must be put to sleep immediately or it becomes a health hazard," he said.Dr. Saleh explained that there are two kinds of rabies; furious and dumb. In furious rabies, the symptoms are evident. Dumb rabies is more dangerous because the infected animal does not show any symptoms but still carries the disease. "In both cases there needs to be a history of being bitten by another animal," he said.So what should one do when bitten by an animal? This depends on the degree of laceration (tear) in the bite as well as its location. The disease enters through the nerve fibers that feed the area of the wound. Hence, the closer the bite is to the brain, the more dangerous.

As soon as the bite occurs, the wound needs to be flushed out with water. "When doing that, the patient is in fact doing two things: mechanically removing the virus or diluting it. Also, the wound should not be covered or stitched because the virus is more potent when isolated from air," explained Dr. Saleh.The second step to take after being bitten is to receive rabies shots. The first shot against rabies should be taken immediately on the same day of the bite. The following shots are taken three days later, then after one and two weeks. The final shot is taken 28 days after the bite. The animal that bit the person should be located and placed under observation. If the animal is rabid then it will die within two weeks. At this point the person must take all five shots. If the animal lives, then the two remaining shots are not necessary.

A parasitic disease more commonly related to cats is toxoplasmosis. The disease, explained Dr. Saleh, is caused by a microscopic, crescent-shaped parasite which is found in the blood. The parasite might go through other intermediary hosts during its life cycle, but its final host and site of reproduction is the cat. Eventually, the parasite is transferred through the cat's feces and so any contact with the litter box of an infected cat is dangerous.

The most dangerous effect of toxoplasmosis is on pregnant women. According to Saleh, it can result in miscarriages. It can also result in encephalitis (infection of the brain) in the fetus, which could lead to blindness in the newborn baby. Other congenital diseases that might arise as a result of infection with this disease include hydrocephalus (a head filled with water) and microcephalus (small head), depending on the stage of pregnancy at the time of infection. "This is why pregnant women should never change the litter box. If the woman must do so, the scooping method should be employed to avoid breathing in its vapor," explained Dr. Saleh.

Intermediary hosts of the parasite include sheep, rodents, cattle and birds. Since the disease can be acquired by eating uncooked processed meat, cats should not be allowed to catch mice or hunt for their food and should always be fed cooked food. The disease, while having no symptoms in animals or cats, can be diagnosed by a vet. After three to four months, the infection goes away on its own. There is no vaccine for cats or humans against the parasite.Dogs can transfer roundworms to their owners. In some extreme cases these worms can cause damage to the liver, eyes or brain. Dogs need to be taken on a regular annual visit to their doctors for de-worming and their stool should be checked every six months, said Dr. Saleh.

A parasitic dermatological disease that could be passed on to humans from their dogs is mange (or scabies in humans). The parasites make tunnels under the skin. "Symptoms for dogs include itching, hair loss, wrinkling skin and a terrible smell. As soon as a dog contracts the disease, it needs to be treated in a pet hospital and to be isolated from people. If the disease becomes difficult to treat, the vet may need to put the dog to sleep in order to avoid contaminating humans and other dogs," he said.If the dog or the owner show symptoms of itching, medical attention needs to be sought immediately. An important note, Dr. Saleh said, is that dogs normally shed hair twice a year and this should not be confused with mange. However, if circular or irregular patches of hair loss are discovered, a visit to the vet is in order.

Psittacosis, or the parrot disease, is transferred by birds that live in the wild. Sick birds show signs of sleepiness, shivering, weight loss, breathing difficulties and diarrhea. Human symptoms include fever, headaches and pneumonia.The disease is contracted through the handling of infected animals. In addition, the waste or dust from the cages of infected birds could cause eye-irritation so they should be handled with care.

Fish form the least hazard in terms of zoonotic diseases. The most important precaution that needs to be taken is when you feed them live worms since these come from waste channels and carry along with them any presiding diseases in those channels, Dr. Saleh explained."The water in which [fish are] kept also needs to be clean and the filters disinfected regularly otherwise the fish owner may get gastro-intestinal disorders such as diarrhea or vomiting. Also, it is important to wash the hands after any contact with aquarium water. Water should be changed frequently and the filters should be disinfected regularly," he said.

In Need of Attention
Overall, Dr. Saleh said that it's important to note that all pets are generally safe if the right precautions are taken. "The most important thing is to look at the place where this pet will stay, the capabilities of the owner and the general health status of those in the house."Pets are not toys, he stressed. They should be taken care of, even mentally, and they need to be taken to the vet regularly. "Small animals don't need much exercise, but bigger animals do. They need to walk half an hour in the morning and another in the evening. It could be the case that you can only take care of some fish in the water. Dogs, however, are the most demanding."Additionally, Dr. Saleh advised that it is best to avoid all kinds of wild pets such as turtles and wild birds like parrots. For all animals though, feces are mostly the carriers of diseases and litter boxes must be handled with care. "It's important to wash the hands well after handling the pet and not to kiss it on the mouth or allow it to lick us," he said. When feeding the animal, it's important to feed them either pet food or leftovers which the owner himself could eat; not spoilt food, said Dr. Saleh.Pet owners should always check with a doctor if they or their animals develop any kind of symptoms such as the flu, rash, skin irritation or itching. "It's important at this point to tell your doctor that you have a pet," he said.Finally, Dr. Saleh stressed that despite the potential problems, keeping pets is beneficial for children because it teaches responsibility and discipline that remain with the child till the end of life.

1 Responses to Zoonotic diseases......Take care about pets

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