Do pets get sick – what the experts say

Do pets make you sick? What the experts say

Attention: Cat as a health risk: Do pets make you sick??

Stroking gladly, kissing forbidden: This is what experts advise when dealing with pets. Cats can carry parasites into the house – and these are especially dangerous for pregnant women and children. For most people, pets are full-fledged family members: cuddling with them is part of it -. Sometimes the dog even sits on the sofa or the cat sleeps in the bed with it. However, especially small children and people with a weakened immune system should not overdo it when caressing their four-legged pets, so as not to run any health risk. From an expert's point of view, kissing is forbidden -. Petting should always be followed by careful hand washing.

At the beginning of February, experts from science and the authorities will discuss possible health hazards that can be caused by pets at a conference at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover (Tiho). These can be accidents, i.e. bites in particular, but also allergies as well as infections transmitted by the animals, so-called zoonoses.

Pregnant women should pay attention to hygienic handling

Although there is a reporting system for infectious diseases in Germany, the source is not discovered in every case. In most cases, it remains unclear whether a patient has contracted the virus from another person, an animal or from food, says Hendrik Wilking, who conducts research on zoonoses at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Berlin and advises institutions.

In Germany, the pathogen Toxoplasma gondii is probably the most dangerous in connection with pets, says veterinarian Wilking. "In people whose immune system is supprimated, such an infection can be very severe in some circumstances." The cat is the host of this parasite. Humans can become infected directly from cats or by eating meat contaminated with the pathogen.

4000 pregnant women with toxoplasmosis

A new infection with Toxoplasma gondii during pregnancy is problematic. According to an RKI study, slightly more than 4000 pregnant women undergo toxoplasmosis each year, and more than 300 newborns are born with clinical symptoms of the disease. "This includes damage to the neurological area", says Wilking. "Pregnant women should pay attention to hygienic handling of cats."

In addition, according to another RKI study, cats increase the risk of Lyme disease infection even more than dogs do. "The cats pick up the ticks outside, and they are transmitted for example when cuddling." Should pets be completely eliminated because of the risks of infection? "By no means", emphasizes the expert. Studies have proven the health benefits for the owners. According to the study, pet owners have a higher life satisfaction, they move more – just because of walking and taking care of them – and they also have more social contacts.

Exoticism has its price

People have lived with dogs and cats for thousands of years, but exotic reptiles have only become more popular in recent decades. In the wake of this, according to the RKI, Salmonella infections in babies and young children have also increased because the majority of snakes, geckos or bearded dragons excrete the pathogen. It causes severe diarrhea. The Berlin veterinarian Frank Mutschmann, who specializes in reptiles, says: "Reptiles should not be kept in the children's room, not in the bathroom and especially not in the kitchen." It is also important to buy animals from reputable dealers.

Maximilian Reuschel provides information at the conference under the motto "Do our pets make us sick??" About rodent-borne zoonoses. According to the Tiho scientist, bad disease patterns are common when keeping guinea pigs and co. not expected. At most, for example, a rabbit sniff could be transmitted. Hamsters are often infested with tropical rat mites, he says. Their bites could cause light, reddish pustules in humans. "The risk of zoonosis is much higher in wild animals", emphasizes Reuschel. Hedgehogs, for example, can transmit fungal skin infections. In the USA, raccoon roundworms have been found in children who had been playing in the sandbox.

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