Living With Animals: Keep That Human Away From Me!

Rabies. Toxoplasmosis. Cat Scratch Fever. Zoonoses are diseases people can get from animals. Some quite serious, almost all readily preventable with common sense, still there’s paranoia aplenty in some circles. But what about the possibility of pets getting sick from us? 

Hold onto your hat, Dr. Oz, there may be reason for animals to avoid sick people! The first documented case of a cat catching and dying from the H1N1 flu virus occurred in 2009, and other human-exposed animal sufferers have included dogs, rabbits and ferrets. Most researchers are pretty sure dogs and cats who cuddle with humans home sick in bed can’t catch our common cold, but that’s as strong a reassurance as you’ll get.

However, dogs can catch the mumps virus from us, causing a disease called parotiditis. Tuberculosis has passed from humans to dogs and cats. Likely you’ve heard news reports about antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections, commonly referred to as MRSA. Caused by a strain of bacteria that’s become resistant to many of the antibiotics used to treat ordinary staph infections, most MRSA infections occur in people who’ve been in hospitals or other health care settings. MRSA has been diagnosed in numerous dogs and cats infected by humans who worked (and were exposed) in healthcare professions or had been hospitalized.

Most diseases are species-specific, meaning generally dogs don’t get sick from cats or cats from dogs, and most people can live with both without getting sick from or getting their animals sick. The key is “most.” Viruses, one cause of disease, mutate over time and it’s certainly possible that a bird-disease becomes a cat-disease becomes a people-disease. Immune suppressed people should discuss with their doctors, and common sense applies to all: for example, don’t drink from the litter box, do wash hands after handling, and you decide whether rubber gloves and a face mask are needed. Absent paranoia, living with animals boils down to overwhelming benefits versus the few risks. 

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