Human and Animal Health Considerations

By Satesh Bidaisee, Associate Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, St. George's University
September 27, 2011

Whether people own dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, rabbits or fish, they need to be aware that domestic animals can have an effect on their health by transmitting certain diseases. Animal diseases, that are zoonotic diseases, are those naturally transmitted from vertebrate animals to humans. Multiple zoonotic diseases can potentially affect human health and are caused by a wide variety of bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungal organisms. People may become infected in numerous ways:

(a) fecal waste, a source of numerous bacterial and parasitic infections as well as urine contamination of food and water, which can lead to diseases. Leptospira spp., a bacterium that destroys red blood cells, kidneys and manifests signs of jaundice is transmitted in this manner;

(b) ingestion of undercooked food products;

(c) skin contact with infectious agents (e.g., ringworm, fleas and mites); and

(d) bite wounds or scratches are all potential modes of zoonotic transmission.

Fortunately, the risk of getting a disease from an animal is still relatively small and the risk can be further minimized by practicing good personal hygiene, keeping pet areas clean, controlling disease causing parasites, and providing regular vaccinations and veterinary care to animals.

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