Careful: Pets can bring joy, but carry infections too

cat n chickensAs any pet owner knows, all the creatures great and small can add beyond measure to our lives. But it may be worth reconsidering some boundaries between beasts and people to prevent disease and to enjoy the full bounty that animals can bring. Parents, please take note.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, has reexamined the malady commonly known as cat scratch fever, a flea-related bacterial infection that tabbies spread to people by raking them with their claws, or by licking a human on a wound or other tear in the skin. The CDC has found after scrutinizing eight years of insurance records on almost 40 million people, that 12,000 Americans annually get this infection, with 500 of them requiring hospitalization.

As USA Today reported, cat scratch fever isn’t common but “those who are infected and become seriously ill has increased … .Side effects can range from a headache, fever and swollen lymph nodes to rarer incidents where the heart or brain are affected.” The disease often runs its course without need for treatment, though antibiotics can be effective.

Cat owners can curb infection by washing their hands after playing with their pet, keeping them indoors, and taking steps to kill any fleas on their kitties.

The CDC says that the malady most affects the elderly and kids. Youngsters may need to be taught that many cats aren’t big on being picked up for snuggling and smooching. Researchers found an upswing in cat scratch disease cases in January. They theorize that parents bring felines home during the holidays as gifts for kids; the mutual affection may wear thin in the new year. So moms, dads, and other grownups be warned.

Careful with those chickens

Meantime, all those urban enthusiasts who keeping egg-laying hens and their rooster pals also may want to rethink these backyard pets and hygiene. Chicken raising has become a trendy pastime for city folk, even though  officials in Washington, D.C., for example, might object under health laws.

There’s good reason to be cautious about barnyard fowl and human health, the CDC has found.  The agency studied salmonella outbreaks from 1990 to 2014 and found poultry-related incidences to be growing more common and larger, Stat, the online health information site says.

It may be tough to fathom the affection some owners have for their fowl. But a key reason the  dangerous bacterial infections are rising and getting bigger may be that chicken owners are “kissing their birds, hugging their birds, bringing them close to the face and treating them more like dogs and cats than farm animals,” a CDC expert told Stat. “It’s very important for people to know that even healthy birds can carry germs that make people sick.”

In the West, most people have been happy to get off farms and far from poultry and livestock. In places like China, of course, that separation isn’t so big, and, as a result, disease outbreaks like avian flu can spread fast and far with deadly result.

And if a chicken-related salmonella infection isn’t sufficient discouragement to stop handling pet birds, Danish researchers are warning about poultry as a means for the spread of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA infection. This superbug is tough to knock down because it resists so many commonly used antibiotics─indeed, experts say it is the result of antibiotic overuse, particularly in animal feeds. The Danish researchers said the poultry-related MRSA infections they studied may have resulted more from eating tainted meat. But handling infected birds is another means of  transmission.

OK, is this post sounding too negative about pets? They are a huge, important, and healthful part of life, to be sure, as a recent Washington Post feature points out.


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