Could Your Pet Be Making You Sick?

Prevent your best friend from giving you a disease.

ByABC News via logo
June 25, 2008, 7:42 PM

June 26, 2008 — -- Many owners consider their household pets family members, but just like their human counterparts, these animals can spread illnesses to people.

Pet-to-human transmission is called zoonosis, and highly publicized examples include disease that's passed from nonhousehold animals to humans, such as mad cow disease and bird flu.

"Good Morning America" contributor Dr. Marty Becker gives you tips on how avoid getting sick from your pet.

Note: The animals featured on "GMA" today are available for adoption at the Humane Society of New York.

From roundworms, people can contract visceral larval migrans, which is a potentially serious disease that can affect the eyes or other organs. Symptoms can include fever, cough, loss of appetite, weakness and lung congestion.

Another common problem is cat scratch fever, which is just what it sounds like. It's an infection caused by a cat bite or scratch. Bacteria found on a cat's nails or claws is transmitted through the scratch and can cause high fever, loss of appetite and swollen glands.

If you're a healthy person, cat scratch fever is mild and if you wash out the scratch or bite with soap and water it can resolve itself. But it can be very dangerous for people with weakened or immature immune systems.

Kids have the greatest risk of catching a disease from a pet because they not only play with their pets but often come into contact with an animal's waste, which can be hidden in the grass in the yard or in the sandbox. Inevitably, little hands that play in the grass or sand end up in little mouths.

Pregnant women, the elderly and anyone with a weakened immune system also are in danger. This includes people undergoing cancer treatment, or recent organ recipients anyone with an autoimmune disease.

Unfortunately, people with compromised immune systems are often mistakenly advised to remove cats from the household to reduce the risk of infection. This is particularly distressing for people going through a serious illness, who often need the love of their pets to help them get through this tough time. However, people are highly unlikely to become infected from direct contact with their cats and with simple, proper precautions, there is no danger at all.

Minimize your contact with high-pet traffic areas doggy parks or doggy potty areas at highway rest stops. If you do go to them, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after you leave.

First of all, keep you pets in good health with semi-annual visits to the vet to keep their vaccines current and to make sure they are parasite-free. Also, make sure that you use year-round parasite control throughout your pet's life, regardless of your pet's age or where you live.

Keep your pet's environment clean by scooping the poop out of your cat's litter box every day. Also, deep clean the litter box periodically with scalding hot water and detergent, and replace that litter box at least once a year.

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