Taking care of a family pet is a great learning experience for a child, since it teaches at a practical level the concepts of responsibility, delicacy and respect for living beings. Like adults, children can also benefit from the company and affection of their pets, as well as the relationship they share with them.
But animals in general and pets in particular can transmit infections to humans, especially children. Therefore, if you are considering the possibility of having a pet or already have one, it is important that you know how to protect your family from infections that could be transmitted to you.
How pets spread infections
Like humans, all animals are germ carriers. The most common diseases among pets (such as distemper, canine parvovirus and heartworm disease) cannot be transmitted to humans.
But pets are also carriers of some bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that can cause diseases in humans that they infect. Humans develop these diseases transmitted by other animals when they receive a bite or scratch or when they come in contact with feces, saliva or animal dander.
These diseases can affect humans in many different ways. They are more worrisome when they affect young children, infants, pregnant women and people whose immune system is weakened due to illness or another condition. Children who have not yet turned 5 are those who are most exposed because their immune system is still developing. In addition, some infections that only slightly ill an adult can be much more serious in this population group.
Healthy families, healthy pets
But it is also not necessary that you give up on acquiring a pet or that you take your family’s furry friend away from home. Pets can enrich your family life and, if you adopt a series of precautions, you can protect your children from communicable diseases.
Protecting your family from infections transmitted by pets is something that must be started before the pet comes home. For example, the presence of reptiles or amphibians should not be allowed in a house where infants and / or young children live.
Also consider the health status and age of your children before acquiring a pet. A pet that requires frequent handling is not recommended for any immunocompromised child (such as children affected by HIV infection, those suffering from cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, or those who frequently use prednisone). Children with eczema should avoid aquariums.
Dogs and cats
Dogs and cats are among the pets that have more followers but may be carriers of infections such as (*):
- Campylobacter infection (or campylobacteriosis). It can be transmitted by pets carrying the bacteria Campylobacter jejuni , which causes diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever in humans. The bacteria may be present in the digestive tract of dogs, cats, hamsters, birds and some farm animals. A person can get the infection if it comes in contact with contaminated water, feces, undercooked meat (raw medium) or unpasteurized milk.
In the US, more than two million cases of Campylobacter infection and C. jejuni bacteria occur annually.It is considered the main cause of current bacterial gastroenteritis. Campylobacter infections are contagious, especially among members of the same family and among children who go to daycare or nursery school. This infection is treated with antibiotics.
- Cat scratch disease. It can occur when a person receives the bite or scratch of a cat previously infected with the Bartonella henselae bacteria . Symptoms include: swelling and discomfort in lymph nodes, fever, headache and fatigue. It is a disease that usually remits without any treatment. However, the doctor can prescribe antibiotics in severe cases. Cat scratch disease is associated with long-term complications very rarely.
- Anger. This serious disease is caused by a virus that enters the body through a bite or wound contaminated by the saliva of an infected animal. Animals that may carry rabies virus include dogs, cats, raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes. The widespread use of the rabies vaccine in dogs and cats has reduced the transmission of rabies within these species and also in humans. Human rage is extremely rare in the US. and there is a rabies vaccine to be administered in case of a bite from a potentially rabid animal.
- Rocky mountain spotted fever. It is transmitted by ticks infected by the Rickettsia ricketsii bacteria . Its symptoms include: high fever, chills, muscle aches and headaches, as well as a rash that extends over wrists, ankles, palms, soles of the feet and trunk. Rocky mountain spotted fever, which can be treated with antibiotics, is more common in the southern part of the central US region. and in the southern region of the US Atlantic coast.
- Ringworm It is a skin infection caused by various types of fungi present in the earth and on the skin of humans and pets. Children can get it by touching infected animals, such as dogs and cats. Tinea cornea (or tinea corporis) usually consists of a round, dry and flaky area of the skin, surrounded by a red, bulky contour that protrudes over the skin’s surface. When it affects the scalp, the area, apart from being scaly and red, may be inflamed. There are usually bald areas. Ringworm is treated with antifungal medication, in the form of shampoo, cream or orally administered medication.
- Toxocariasis It is a disease caused by the parasitic earthworm Toxocara, which lives in the intestines of dogs and cats. The eggs of these worms are eliminated through the feces of dogs and cats, which usually pollute the soil where children sit. When a child ingests contaminated soil, the eggs open in his intestine and the larvae spread to other body organs, an infection called visceral larva migrans. Symptoms include: fever, cough or wheeze, enlarged liver, rash and swollen lymph nodes. Symptoms may subside without any treatment or the doctor may prescribe medication to kill the larvae.
- ToxoplasmosisThis disease is contracted after coming into contact with a parasite present in the feces of cats. In most healthy people, toxoplasmosis infection is asymptomatic. When you have symptoms, these may include: swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, muscle aches, fever, sore throat and rash. In pregnant women, toxoplasmosis can cause abortions and premature births, as well as blindness and serious illness in the newborn. Therefore, pregnant women should avoid coming into contact with cat droppings.
- Bite infections of dogs and cats. Dog and cat bites can become infected and cause significant problems, especially when they affect the face or hands. Cat bites tend to be worse, partly because they are more punctured and deeper wounds. Major bite wounds should be thoroughly washed. This type of wounds usually requires treatment in the doctor’s office or in an emergency medical service; Sometimes it is necessary to administer antibiotics.
Birds that live at home as pets can transmit the following diseases even if they live in cages:
- Cryptococcosis It is a disease triggered by a fungus that is contracted when a person inhales organisms present in the droppings of birds (especially those of pigeons). It can cause pneumonia. People whose immune system is weakened by suffering from diseases such as HIV infection or cancer are more likely to get this disease and develop serious complications, such as meningitis.
- The psittacosis Also known as “parrot fever”, it is a disease of bacterial origin that can be contracted by coming into contact with infected poultry feces or with the dust that accumulates in bird cages. Its symptoms include: cough, high fever and headache. It is treated with antibiotics.
Reptiles and amphibians
Reptiles (from lizards and lizards to snakes and turtles) and amphibians (such as frogs, toads and salamanders) expose children to the risk of contracting:
- Salmonellosis The reptile and amphibian feces contain the Salmonella bacteria . People can get this infection by touching the animal’s skin, its cage or other contaminated surfaces. Salmonellosis has symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting and fever. Young children are exposed to the risk of contracting the most serious forms of this disease, including dehydration, meningitis and sepsis (blood infection).
Handling and caring for rodents, such as hamsters and gerbils, or fish can expose children to the risk of contracting:
- Lymphocytic choriomeningitis.People can get lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus by inhaling particles from the urine, feces or saliva of infected rodents, such as mice and hamsters. Lymphocytic choriomeningitis can occur with flu-like symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting and can even trigger meningitis (inflammation of the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord) and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain ). Like most viruses, there is no specific treatment, but some of the patients may need to be hospitalized. As with toxoplasmosis,
- Mycobacterium marinum infection. This infection can be contracted by people exposed to contaminated waters in aquariums or swimming pools. Although it is usually a mild infection that affects only the skin, it can be more serious in those affected by an HIV infection or who have a weakened immune system.
Precautions to follow when adopting or buying a pet
If you intend to adopt or buy a pet, make sure that the breeder, animal shelter or pet shop where you go are well accredited and vaccinated or all animals. A well-accredited breeder should be affiliated with a club or association of national or local breeders, such as the ” American Kennel Club ” (an American canine club that issues its own rules on dog breeding). Contact the US Humane Society . or with the future veterinarian of your pet to inform you about the animal shelters closest to your area.
As soon as you choose your family’s pet, take it to the veterinarian to administer the relevant vaccines and do a physical examination. Do not forget to vaccinate your pet again according to the vaccination program recommended by the veterinarian; This will keep your pet healthy and reduce the chances that it can transmit infections to your children.
You will also have to feed your pet daily with nutritious food for animals (ask the veterinarian for information) and offer fresh water. Avoid feeding your pet with raw meat because it could be an important focus of infections and do not let him drink the water from the toilet, as many infections can be transmitted through saliva, urine and feces.
Limit the contact that your young children have with stray dogs, which hunt and kill animals, because animals that ingest infected meat can get that infection and transmit it to humans.
Caring for a pet safely
Here are a series of tips to help your family take care of your pet safely:
- Always wash your hands, especially after touching the pet, handling its food, cleaning the cage, the food or drink containers or the excrement drawer. Put on gloves when cleaning or picking up the pet’s droppings and, if it is a bird, put on a dust mask over the mouth and nose when cleaning the animal’s cage so as not to inhale particles from its urine or feces . Do not let children be responsible for cleaning the cage or drawer of excrement unless they are supervised by an adult or have proven themselves to be able to proceed safely and responsibly (again, they should wash their hands when finished).
- Avoid kissing or touching your pet with your mouth, as infections can be transmitted through saliva. Also, do not share food with your pet.
- Keep the area where your pet lives clean. If your pet makes their excrement abroad, collect them regularly and do not allow your children to play there.
- Do not let your pet in places where food is prepared or handled and do not bathe or clean your cage or aquarium in the kitchen sink or bathtub. Wash the macota outdoors or talk to the veterinarian to recommend a professional to wash it.
- Avoid unknown animals or those that appear to be sick. Never adopt a wild animal as if it were domestic.
Watch your children carefully when they interact with the pet. Young children are more likely to get infections transmitted by the family pet because they crawl on the ground, kiss the pet, share food with it or put their fingers in their mouths and then take them to their own mouths. Also, if your children go to a children’s zoo, a farm or a friend’s house where animals live, make sure they know how important it is to wash their hands.
To ensure the comfort of your pet and the safety of your family, control problems related to fleas and ticks. Fleas and ticks can be carriers of diseases that are very easy to transmit to children. There are medications that are taken orally to control fleas and ticks; avoid the flea collar if you have young children because children can touch it and get sick by inhaling the chemicals it contains. Check regularly if your pet has fleas or ticks and also look at bites and scratches, which can make your pet more vulnerable to infections. When they go outside,
And finally, sterilize or cover your pet. This will reduce your contact with other animals that could be infected, especially if your pet goes outside a lot.