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While you might quarantine a child with chicken pox to prevent her from infecting other children, you wouldn't expect her to pass that illness along to the family pet. That’s because when it comes to diseases, most stay firmly within one host species. But zoonotic diseases, which can be passed between people and animals, are different. They’re everywhere, and they demand attention. And in the summer months, when you head outside with your pets, you must be even more vigilant. Fortunately, a few simple facts can help you avoid zoonotic diseases and their scary effects throughout the year.
Everyone is vulnerable to zoonotic diseases, but for people with weakened immune systems, zoonotic diseases are particularly dangerous. A variety of things can compromise the human immune system, including cancer treatment, chronic diseases like diabetes and kidney disease, conditions like AIDS, or even age (the very old and very young are more at risk). And considering that more than 40 percent of immunosuppressed people are pet owners, knowledge about zoonotic disease transmission is vital.
They may sound exotic, but you’re probably already familiar with many zoonotic diseases. A classic we all know (and fear) is rabies, which is an ongoing problem worldwide and claims more than 50,000 human lives every year. Vaccines protect pets against rabies, but unvaccinated wildlife and pets are a conduit for transmitting rabies to people.
Zoonotic diseases also make up the vast majority of new public health challenges. Avian flu and anthrax are just two in an ever-increasing parade of animal-to-human diseases. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control categorizes more than 75 percent of newly identified infectious diseases as being zoonotic.
Zoonotic diseases also can damage the bond between a family and its pet. When people don’t understand zoonotic diseases and how they’re transmitted, cats and dogs often are held responsible for infections. In reality, very few zoonotic diseases are directly transmissible from your pet, and only a few of the many parasitic diseases seen in people come from cats and dogs. So people shouldn’t shun pets to avoid catching a zoonotic disease; however, controlling or eliminating common pet parasites that cause or carry zoonotic diseases is a good place to start.
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