How Pets Can Make You Sick:
150 Diseases Can Pass From Pets To Humans

Although not widely known, the family pet can pass some very serious illnesses to their loving human masters. Many of these diseases mimic common human sickness and the linkage from disease to pet is never suspected.

Most everyone has had symptoms such as: headache, fever, chills, cough, aching muscles and painful joints. Sounds like the flu, right? Not necessarily. These symptoms could result from any one of the many diseases which can - and are - transmitted from the family pet. There are very few 'experts' in this field, notes family practitioner Dr. Richard Andolsen, M.D.

Everyone knows a cat lover, and many of you reading this article have one or more cats as house pets. Since cat owners and lovers often tend to be very affectionate with their feline friends, often hugging, kissing, and commonly sleeping with their furry companions, the transmission of cat-to-human disease is not unusual. In most cases, the cat-to-human illness is so minor that it is not even noticed. Some are much more severe, however. Even life-threatening.

"I've seen patients with cat scratch disease," said Andolsen, "and I've seen patients with pasteurella multicida which can result in joint destruction and even the loss of a finger or other area where the cat had bitten the person."

Some diseases, including Lyme Disease, can result in a form of rheumatoid arthritis that causes pain, crippling, loss of memory, severe malaise, and eventually complete disability. Many other diseases spread by pets (especially cats ) are: toxoplasmosis, toxocariasis, leptospirosis, tularemia, and plague, which may be severe and life-threatening. Untreated, these diseases can lead to meningitis, encephalitis, paralysis, arthritis, or pneumonia.

Cat Mycoplasma

One of the worst, and virtually unknown, cat-transmitted diseases is cat bacteria or mycoplasma. It often ends up in the joints, causing severe rheumatoid arthritis and has also been linked to Lupus. Although known to pass to human who eat tainted meat, especially undercooked lamb, the friendly house cat litter box is the primary vehicle of transfer. And it's airborne. In cats, mycoplasma show up as a respiratory illness and is often picked up in veterinary settings and is sometimes referred to as 'kennel cough.'

Mycoplasma is a single-celled organism that mimics mushrooms and ferns as it is spread by airborne spores; hence the name 'myco,' or 'like a mushroom.' The spores of mycoplasma are found in the feces of infected cats and end up in the catbox in the home. When the sand in the catbox is sifted, the spores are sent airborne and enter the pet owner through a breath of air into the lungs.

How do you know if your cat has mycoplasma? If your tabby has any lung problems, a visit to the vet is in order. And mention 'mycoplasma' to your vet. The Merck Veterinary Manual (pp. 760-761) states that 40-45% of all chronic feline upper respiratory diseases are caused by Rhino virus, Herpes virus, Calcivirus, Chlamydia, or Mycoplasma. Indeed, there are many causes of feline lung problems but only mycoplasma is spread by spores from the catbox. Some cats die from these lung afflictions, others become carriers and spread the disease for years.

Pet associated illnesses are caused by parasites, bacteria, funguses, and viruses. They are usually transmitted to humans by direct contact, such as petting the animal or getting a scratch or bite, or by fecal-oral transmission. Although unpleasant to contemplate, this last route involves a personšs hands coming into contact with the pet's contaminated feces and then coming into direct contact with the mouth or taking up intermediate residence on food.

The NYU Medical Centers Health Letter publication admonished pet owners to wash their hands after pet contact and keep the litter area as clean as possible. Above all, keep the family cats off dining tables and kitchen counters.

Flea Facts

Flea infestation is the most common health hazard posed to pet owners by their pets, although aggressive use of insecticides can prevent or control the problem. Unfortunately, these chemicals are toxic to humans and many are known carcinogens. People who live in flea and tick infested areas are at special risk. These insects can transmit Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and plague.

Surprisingly, fleas spend only about 20% of their life cycle on a cat or a dog. The rest of the life cycle is spent in the carpet or the lawn. Adult fleas not only feast on the blood of your pet but they also breed and lay their eggs on their host. The eggs then flake off and fall into the carpet or lawn, where they hatch into larvae. They develop a cocoon in their pupa stage and break out as adult fleas. The fleas jump on the nearest available pet and repeat the cycle all over again.

Under ideal conditions, fleas can complete their entire life cycle in just 10-14 days. Females can lay about 20 eggs per day. So, if you start out with only 10 adult fleas at the end of 30 days, they will have produced 1,844 adults fleas, 174,709 immature fleas, and more than 90,000 eggs ready to hatch within the next two or three days.

The second most common health hazard, say the experts, is allergic reactions to pet dander and the microscopic house mites that breed in the dander deposits in the air. Those who have allergic rhinitis, vasomotor rhinitis, asthma, or other obstructive lung disorders are strongly advised to keep their pets outside of their homes.

There are so many benefits from pet ownership (custodianship) that fear of pet-transmitted diseases should not be regarded as a deterrent to having a pet, say physicians. People should not be afraid, just aware.

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