Do dogs, cats and rabbits make you sick?
Infection through pets Make dog, cat and rabbit sick?
Pet owners have a higher life satisfaction, they move more – just because of the walking and caring – and they also have more social contacts. Photo: dpa
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In Germany, the risk of catching an infection from a pet is relatively low. Experts agree: cuddling, snuggling and petting with dogs and cats are allowed, but hygiene must be observed.
Hanover/Stuttgart – For most people, pets are full-fledged family members: cuddling with them is part of the experience. And often the dog sits on the sofa or the cat sleeps in bed with them.
However, especially pregnant women, small children and people with weakened immune systems should not overdo it in the affections with their four-legged darlings, so as not to run any health risk.
From the expert's point of view, kissing is forbidden. And petting should always be followed by careful hand washing.
Death after cuddling with the dog
In an exceptional medical case, a man in Bremen even died of an infection after cuddling his dog. The 63-year-old patient was found to have the bacterium Capnocytophaga canimorsus, which is found in dog saliva, report the attending physicians from the Red Cross Hospital RKK in Hanseatic City.
The man came to the hospital in August 2018 with signs of severe blood poisoning. He died of multiple organ failure about two weeks later despite treatment with antibiotics, doctors write in the "European Journal of Case Reports in Internal Medicine". The man had been licked by his dog before, but not bitten.
Pets and health
"The close coexistence of humans and animals requires strict health monitoring of animals so that pathogens that can be transmitted from animals to humans (zoonotic pathogens) can be successfully controlled," explains Lisa Sprague, a staff member at the Institute for Bacterial Infections and Zoonoses at the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI, Federal Research Institute for Animal Health). The veterinarian is an expert in bacterial diseases such as francisella, brucella and yersinia in dogs and cats.
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 disease from another person, an animal or from food, says Hendrik Wilking. The veterinarian conducts research on zoonoses at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Berlin and advises institutions.
Pathogen Toxoplasma gondii
In Germany, the pathogen "Toxoplasma gondii" is probably the most dangerous in connection with pets, explains Wilking. "In humans, whose immune system is suppressed, such an infection can be very severe under certain circumstances." The cat is the host of this parasite. Humans can become infected directly from the cats or when they eat meat contaminated with the pathogen.
A new infection with "Toxoplasma gondii" during pregnancy is problematic. According to an RKI study, slightly more than 4,000 pregnant women contract toxoplasmosis each year, and more than 300 newborns are born with clinical symptoms of the disease. "This includes damage in the neurological area," says Wilking. "Pregnant women should pay attention to hygienic handling of cats."
Lyme disease infection
In addition, according to another RKI study, cats increased the risk of Lyme disease infection even more than dogs did. Wilking: "The cats pick up the ticks outside, and they are transmitted, for example, when cuddling."
Should we get rid of pets completely because of infection risks? "In no case," emphasizes the expert. Studies would 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 caring – and they also have more social contacts.
Guinea pigs& Co.
According to Maximilian Reuschel of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover, serious illnesses are not to be expected when keeping smaller pets such as guinea pigs, hamsters or rabbits. At best a rabbit sniff could be transmitted.
Hamsters are often infested with tropical rat mites. Their bites could cause mild, reddish pustules in humans. "In wild animals, the risk of zoonosis is significantly higher," explains Reuschel. For example, hedgehogs could transmit skin fungi. In the U.S., raccoon roundworms had been detected in children who had been playing in the sandbox, he said.
Info: What is zoonosis?
Causes: zoonoses (ancient Greek: "zōon"/animal and "nosos"/disease) are infectious diseases transmissible from animal to human and from human to animal that occur naturally in vertebrates. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the infections can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa and other parasites (especially worms).
Forms: A distinction is made between zooanthroponoses (vertebrate diseases transmitted to humans) and anthropozoonoses (human diseases transmitted to a vertebrate).
Pathogens: Examples of viral zoonoses are: Noroviruses, rabies, avian flu, SARS, swine flu, Ebola fever, herpes B. Examples of bacterial zoonoses are: Lyme disease, anthrax, plague, salmonellosis, tuberculosis.