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What in the World is a Zoonosis?

It’s important! A zoonosis is a disease that can be transmitted from an animal to a human.

One well known example is rabies. Rabies kills animals and people. There is no cure. You can prevent your pets from becoming infected with a rabies vaccine, administered by your veterinarian. Simple. Rabies is rare, seen mostly in wildlife like bats, foxes, raccoons, and skunks. This is due in a large part to the effectiveness of vaccines that are administered to our pets. Public health organizations are working to prevent rabies in certain wildlife populations through the use of oral baits, dropped from planes in endemic areas.

What about other zoonotic diseases? Something that maybe you can relate to a little bit more readily than rabies? Gastrointestinal parasites should top our list. These are critically important if there are young children in the household, because they are most likely to be exposed to this type of zoonosis.

Almost all puppies and kittens are born with roundworms, passed from their mother. The eggs are shed in the feces and this is how people become exposed. Young children playing outdoors may come into contact with the infective eggs and accidentally ingest them (remember, they are microscopic and what young child doesn’t put his hands into his mouth without washing them?). This is the number one most common zoonotic disease in the United States.

So, why is this zoonosis important? As the infective egg develops into a larva, the larva goes wandering through the body and commonly ends up in the eye. This invasion of the eye almost always renders that eye blind. The CDC estimates that there are at least 700 cases of ocular larval migrans in the US each year.

One more zoonosis worth mentioning is Toxoplasmosis. Most women who have ever been pregnant and own a cat are probably familiar with this name. Your doctor probably mentioned it. Many people have already been exposed to this parasite, about 1/4 of the U.S. population. However, if a woman does not have immunity to this parasite and is exposed while she is pregnant, it can be transmitted to the fetus and cause devastating disease or death. Cleaning the litter box every single day and thoroughly washing hands after scooping will limit exposure. Of course, it’s always a good idea to let someone else take over litter box duty if the main scooper is a pregnant woman.

Talk to your veterinarian about proper parasite prevention and control programs and make sure to follow your veterinarian’s advice. Do-it-yourself parasite control programs are not a good idea when we’re talking about the health of you and your family, as well as your pet.

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Thanks for reading!
Veterinary Technical Services Department

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