Okay, after endless begging by your kids, you brought home a pet and everyone is now happy (except maybe whoever has to walk the dog at 6 am). However, if you have someone in the household whose immunity levels may be lower than average, there are a few things you need to know in order to avoid a pet-borne illness. Even those who have had a pet for a long time should be aware that changes in a person’s health status may increase the risk of catching an infection.
Many animals that are kept as pets, including dogs, cats, rodents, reptiles and amphibians, can carry and transmit Salmonella, multi-drug resistant bacteria and parasites such as hookworm, roundworm and Toxoplasma. Infections can develop from bites, scratches, saliva and contact with feces.
According to Dr Jason Stull, assistant professor of veterinary preventive medicine at the Ohio State University, “Surveys suggest that the general public and people at high risk for pet-associated disease are not aware of the risks associated with high-risk pet practices or recommendations to reduce them.”
While those with normal immunity generally don’t have to worry, individuals who are already ill or have weakened immune systems, such as from HIV, leukemia or cancer, need to be careful. Others at a higher risk of infection include children, pregnant women and seniors. At-risk individuals need to limit their interaction with pets or take steps to avoid catching germs. If you are in this category, here are a few precautions:
- Clean your hands after handling or playing with the pet.
- Avoid cleaning the pet’s cages or resting spaces.
- Do get your pet’s space and your home regularly cleaned. This can also help with allergies caused by pets.
- Don’t let pets (dogs) lick your face and don’t kiss your pet.
- Keep litter trays away from human food-preparation and eating areas.
- Make sure your pet gets bathed and groomed regularly.
- Also remember that a healthy pet is less likely to carry diseases. Vaccinate your pet appropriately and get it checked by a vet periodically.
Pets can also bring comfort and joy to persons who are ailing or feeling low, so by taking a few precautions, hopefully they and the whole family can continue to enjoy their company.
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