Animals, humans and disease

Animals bring great benefits to their owners both in terms of psychological and physical health. It is not for nothing that we have seen a real craze for pets since the start of the pandemic. Animals do us good. However, sometimes they can pass diseases called zoonoses to us.

This theme (understanding zoonoses) was chosen this year as part of Animal Life Week organized by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. What is a zoonosis? It is a disease or infection that is naturally transmitted from vertebrate animals to humans. Zoonoses are caused by a variety of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, parasites, microscopic fungi and prions). They are spread from animals to humans in various ways, such as through direct contact or through food, water, the environment, or vectors such as ticks. Some zoonoses are mild, but others can sometimes be fatal.

Importance of zoonoses

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than 200 known zoonoses in the world. Several well-known examples come to mind such as rabies, listeriosis, mad cow disease, Lyme disease, ringworm and salmonellosis.

According to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), 60% of human infectious diseases are zoonotic. It is therefore a significant public health problem around the world. Cats, dogs and other domestic animals around us could therefore also be the source of a zoonosis. Fortunately, it is possible to prevent these diseases and avoid them with simple actions.

How can I prevent zoonoses if I have a pet?

First, by following your veterinarian’s recommendations. Veterinary medicine has always had a basic preventive approach. One of the goals of the annual veterinary examination is to protect your animals and your family against the most common zoonoses. The proposed vaccines against rabies and leptospirosis, two important zoonoses, as well as the recommended antiparasitics against ticks are part of the solution. Dogs and cats should also receive regular dewormers, especially against roundworms and hookworms, as they are zoonotic agents.

In addition, several potential zoonoses are prevented by following simple hygiene rules when in the presence of animals. You should definitely wash your hands after touching an animal and its belongings. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association recommends washing your hands after being around pets, even if you have not touched them. The same principles of hygiene apply when handling raw meats.

Am I at risk?

Some people are at greater risk of contracting a zoonosis: very young children and the elderly; people who are immunosuppressed, receiving cancer treatment or having had a transplant. If this is the case for you, then it would be a good idea to discuss this with your veterinarian if you have pets in the home.

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