Diseases from Animals

Reduce the Risk from Infectious Diseases Spread by Animals

Animals are an indirect source of infectious diseases through contaminated meat, eggs, and dairy products. Animals can also spread infectious diseases to people directly through bites and scratches or through contact with animal droppings. Wild animals, farm animals, and pets (especially exotic pets) are all potential sources of infectious diseases.

What kinds of infectious diseases do animals spread?

Rats and other rodents are notorious carriers of disease, such as plague, letospirosis, typhus, and now hantavirus infection. Hantavirus has been linked to infected rodents in more than a dozen states. Farm animals spread salmonellosis and E. coli 0157:H7 infection. Even household pets can be sources of infectious disease hazards. Dogs and cats are reservoirs for hookworm disease. Kittens and puppies spread intestinal roundworms to children who ingest soil contaminated by animal feces. Minor scratches or bites from a cat carry a risk of cat scratch disease. Lizards, pet turtles, and other reptiles are frequent transmitters of salmonella.

Perhaps the most feared animal-borne disease threat is rabies. Unvaccinated dogs and cats can acquire rabies from infected wild mammals, such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats. Each year more than 4,000 animals–most of them wild–are diagnosed with rabies in the United States. The disease is endemic in wild mammals in all states except Hawaii, and also in most other countries around the world. Rabies is spread to humans through a bite or scratch from an infected animal. Although rabies in humans is very rare in this country, about 18,000 people with animal bites receive preventive rabies treatment each year.

Protect yourself from animal bites and rabies

  • Avoid direct contact with wild animals — especially skunks, raccoons, foxes, and bats. Do not feed wild animals.
  • Be wary of domestic animals that you do not know.
  • Avoid attracting wildlife near your home. Do not feed pets outside. Keep the area around your house free of food scraps and other debris. Secure trash and any pet food stored outdoors in animal-proof containers to avoid access by wild or stray animals. Screen crawl spaces or attic vents and cap chimneys.
  • Confine your animals to your property. Pets that are allowed to roam are at higher risk of infection. Some signs of rabies in an animal are extreme passiveness, unprovoked aggression, uncoordinated movement, apparent illness or other abnormal behavior. If you suspect an animal has rabies, notify the animal control officer so the animal can be captured. Do not try to catch the animal yourself.
  • Treat any dead animal as if it had died of rabies. Avoid direct contact by wearing kitchen gloves when handling it.
  • If you are bitten or seriously scratched by any animal, don’t panic. Immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for ten minutes. Contact your doctor and local health department. Capture or contain the biting animal, if it is safe to do so. Contact the police or your local animal control officer.
  • If your pet is exposed to a suspected rabid animal, do not try to separate the animals when fighting. Wear protective gloves when handling it or treating its wounds, and contact a veterinarian for advice. Capture or contain the biting animal, if it is safe to do so.

Protect your pets from infection

  • Check with your veterinarian about required and recommended vaccinations and preventive treatments for all pets.
  • Make sure your dogs and cats are vaccinated against rabies–it’s the law. See your veterinarian for information about rabies immunizations and required booster shots.
  • Make sure puppies and kittens are given preventive treatment for intestinal worms.

Protect yourself and your family from hantavirus

  • Control mice inside. Keep your kitchen clean, and store food and trash in containers with tight lids. Rodent-proof your house by sealing cracks and clearing brush from around foundations.
  • Control mice outside. Eliminate possible nesting sites. Elevate hay, woodpiles, and garbage cans, and place them 100 feet from the house. Store all animal food in closed containers.
  • Use safety precautions when cleaning areas that might be infested with rodents or contaminated by their droppings. Do not stir up and breathe dust. Before cleaning, wet down contaminated areas with disinfectant. Wear rubber gloves, and disinfect gloves after use.
  • When enjoying outside activities, stay clear of rodents and their burrows and nests. Keep campsites clean and food tightly sealed. Open up and air out unused cabins before entering or cleaning.

Protect yourself and your family from other animal borne infections.

  • Make it a habit to wash hands with soap and warm water after caring for or handling pets or other animals.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect pet cages, carriers, pens, and litter boxes. Wear rubber gloves. Pregnant women should avoid exposure to animal droppings.
  • Collect and dispose of animal droppings, especially in areas where children play. Use rubber gloves.
  • Cover backyard sandboxes.
  • Avoid toxic pets.

Many of the above tips are taken from the
American Association for World Health
1825 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006