The danger of Rabies and other Zoonotic diseases
Fallacy: Letting your pets lick your hands and sleep with you in bed is always sweet, comforting and healthy.
Fact: Kissing and hugging your pet and letting them lick your hands and faces, and sleeping with them could be dangerous to your health.
One day, you were sitting in your dining table, eating lunch. You are busy enjoying your favorite dish when suddenly; your dog approached near you. He was staring at you, asking for a little food; but you ignored him. A few minutes later, you heard him whining. You looked at him getting a little pissed off. But oh –look at this sad, little creature! He is so adorable that you cannot resist him. You can’t help yourself but offer him food while you are eating. He licks the food from your hands. You pat his head as he wags his tail in happiness. He has not taken his bath for ages, but you did not care at all. You happily finished your meal together with your pet, and so what? As long as you feel the love, that is all that matters.
Does this scene seem familiar to you? Are you one of those pet owners who are fond of showing affection to their pets through cuddling them or going to bed while they’re on your side? Then I’ll tell you what, whether you like it or not, you are prone to infectious diseases. Whether you like it or not, it is time to examine how you get up close with your pets.
Yes, I know you are worried with what I said earlier. But research reminds us that there are certain lines to draw when showing love and affection with animals. Pets are really irresistible. Touching, cuddling them raises the oxytocin –a stimulating hormone produced by the pituitary gland–levels in your body, providing you the feeling of contentment. They are like an emotional balm, a soothing remedy when you feel depressed, confused or anxious. They love you unconditionally.
It’s no surprise that most pet-owners are unconcerned of the risks. According to a survey conducted in the Netherlands, 50% percent of the pet-owners allow their pets to lick their faces. In the United States, a surprising 56% of dog owners sleep with their dog next to them. I’m not saying that keeping a pet as companion is not advisable. It is just that there are some risks and precautions you have to take when getting up close with your pets. But you ask, at what point do they become a threat to our health?
Zoonotic diseases, these are diseases that can be passed on from animals to humans. They are carried by animals like your pets. Among the Zoonoses carried are bacteria, virus, and parasites. According to Dr. Eugene Lañada, a Zoonoses specialist, almost 75 percent of the total emerging human diseases are Zoonotic. Even deadly diseases like Leptospirosis, Dengue, Tetanus and H1n1 flu are Zoonotic too. But the most common, as they say, are the most disregarded. Perhaps this is because most pet-owners are unaware that a single lick from your cat or even a single hug from your dog can already expose you to these Zoonoses. But where do I get these Zoonoses anyway? Let’s find out.
Saliva. A pet’s oral cavity is considered a breeding ground for most Zoonoses. The most common: Rabies. It is actually a virus attacking the Nervous system of the animals; and is at its most active when an animal is dehydrated. The World Health Organization reported that dogs are actually the main host and transmitter of rabies. According to Dr. Lañada, “Dogs have the highest Rabies, with a 90 percent rate. This is followed by cats.” Almost 55,000 people die annually worldwide because of Rabies. Aside from animals, Rabies can also be transmitted from human to human contact.
So you see, your dog’s saliva is powerful that it can kill you. “Rabies is 100 percent fatal, but also 100 percent preventable,” Dr. Lañada adds. That is why, it is important to vaccinate your dog regularly.And do not forget to feed them with water, especially during hot and humid seasons; for these are the days when your pet is most likely to be dehydrated.
Maybe now you feel a little bit confident that there is a little chance of getting infected with Zoonoses. Me and my dog are regularly vaccinated, you justify. I feel secured with my pet now, you say. But to tell you, it is not just the Rabies my friend. Although these Zoonoses are not that deadly compared to Rabies, they still impose risks to your health. Let’s take Pasteurella as the best example. Pasteruella multocida is a Zoonotic bacterium that is found out to be present in most dogs and cats. In a study conducted by Dr. Chomel and Dr. Sun in 2009, an infant has been reported to have meningitis after a family pet dog licked the baby’s face. In France, meningitis also developed in a 67-year-old patient. Pasteurella multocida cultures also grew from his right ear.
Then here comes Staphylococcus. It is another Zoonotic bacterium found in the oral cavities of the dogs. It might sound like a food-borne disease, but they can be carried through your pet’s saliva too. Patients infected with Staphyloccus intermedius have had physical contact with their dogs, including frequent licking with their faces.
But Zoonoses don’t only end to your pet’s mouth. Most of us love to hug, kiss and sleep with our pets. And having them bathe regularly is enough for most pet-owners to be confident about cuddling or sleeping with their dogs. But is it?
Actually, any part of your dog or cat’s body –fur, skin, paws, ear—could be a possible source of Zoonotic disease. Although it is uncommon to healthy pets, the risk of transmitting Zoonotic disease from close contact through bed sharing, kissing and hugging is real. According to Dr. Chomel and Dr. Sun, three different kinds of diseases were documented to pet-owners who frequently share their beds to pets. Your pets could even be hosts to vectors to some common diseases like Lice and scabies.
The lists of Zoonotic diseases are endless. But what’s dangerous is that most Zoonoses acquired through bed sharing, cuddling and licking are transmitted through your skin, which means the more close your contact is, the more vulnerable you are to these diseases. What’s worse is some common Zoonotic bacteria are starting to be anti-microbial resistant. Research proved that household pets such as dogs and cats are reservoirs of Staphylococcus, Salmonella and even E. coli anti-microbial resistant bacteria. Sadly, these resistant bacteria are given little attention in the field of medicine.
A dog a day is okay. Keeping a companion is not wrong, having a friend to stay with you is not wrong. But always remember that your best friend could also be the world’s best enemy. As for a friend like your dog and cat, this could be avoided. That is, if you used your common sense when showing affection to your “friend” animals. Start putting an edge over you and your pet now before it gets worse.