Sunday, March 7, 2010

Zoo What?

Did you know?
There are a handful of diseases that are termed "zoonotic".  By definition zoonotic means that a disease can be transmitted from an animal to a human. The list of zoonotic diseases includes the typical ones you may have heard about like rabies or lyme disease.  But there are a few you might not be familiar with that are worth a quick read to familiarize yourself with the means of transmission and the associated symptoms.

Zoonotic Diseases
The following in an inconclusive list of zoonotic diseases typically found in Colorado.

Cat Scratch Disease - Also known as "cat scratch fever," this flea-borne infection is typically transmitted from a cat's scratch or bite. Signs include pimples at the scratch site and swollen lymph nodes that may persist for six weeks or longer.

Ehrlichiosis - Transmitted by ticks, this bacterial disease can cause fever, muscle aches, vomiting and other, more serious symptoms. As many as half of all patients require hospitalization.

Giardia - People become infected when they drink water containing the parasite Giardia lamblia. You can also become infected by putting something in your mouth that has come into contact with a pet's stool. Signs include diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea.

Leptospirosis - "Lepto" is a bacterial disease spread by contact with urine from an infected animal, including dogs, raccoons, squirrels and skunks. Lepto can cause high fever, severe headache, vomiting and, if left untreated, kidney damage or liver failure.

Lyme Disease - Spread by ticks, Lyme disease can cause arthritis and kidney damage. The number of Lyme disease cases has nearly tripled since 1990, and the disease is now found in virtually every state.

Rabies - This well-known disease is caused by a virus found in the saliva of infected animals and transmitted to people by bites. It is invariably fatal if not promptly treated.

Ringworm - Ringworm is a fungal infection - not a worm - transmitted by contact with the skin or fur of an infected animal. Signs include a bald patch of scaly skin on the scalp or a ring-shaped, itchy rash on the skin.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever - A very serious, tick-borne disease that causes fever, headache and muscle pain, followed by a rash. May be fatal if left untreated.

Toxoplasmosis - This is a parasitic disease spread by contact with cat feces in soil or litter, although the major route of transmission is contaminated meat. It can cause serious health problems in pregnant women or people with compromised immune systems.

Simple ways to protect your family
*Wash your hands often when touching, playing with or caring for pets.
*Never handle the stool of any animal without wearing disposable gloves or using a plastic barrier.
*Avoid kissing your pet or letting your pet lick your face.
*Do daily "tick checks" on yourself, your kids and your pet. Especially if you've been in a wooded or brushy area and more so when temperatures are consistently about 45 degrees.
*If you are pregnant, ask someone else in the family to clean the cat's litter box. If you must do it yourself, wear gloves and immediately wash your hands after changing the litter.
*If you are scratched or bitten, wash the area with soap and water right away and administer first aid. If you are concerned, contact your healthcare professional.

Simple ways to protect your pet
*Twice a year wellness exams at your family veterinarian can help detect and treat zoonotic infections before they become serious, or are transmitted to other pets or people in your household.
*Many zoonotic diseases can be prevented by vaccination.
*Ask your family veterinarian about tick and flea control.
*Inspect your pet for ticks after outings through wooded or brushy areas.
*Don't let your pet drink from standing water outdoors.
*Don't let your pet come into contact with feces or urine of other animals.
*Keep your pet away from wild animal carcasses.
*Remove food, garbage or nesting materials that may attract disease carrying wildlife.

Fortunately, the incidence rate for most of these diseases is low.  It is always best to see your health care provider if you suspect that you have contracted a zoonotic disease.  The earlier you start treatment the better.

The moral of the story...a few common-sense measures can go a long way to keeping zoonotic diseases at bay.

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