You might know that animals can spread rabies to humans, but are you aware that more than a dozen other diseases caused by bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses are also transmissible from pets to humans? Some of these are fairly common, while others are rarely seen in areas with decent sanitation and pest control.
Fortunately, most diseases passed from pets to people, or zoonotic diseases, are preventable with good hygiene, standard cleaning, and common sense. And most are easily treatable if caught early.
Zoonotic Bacterial Diseases
Some bacterial diseases transmissible from pets to humans include leptospirosis, which is a potentially-fatal disease commonly passed via infected animal urine, cat scratch disease, lyme disease, salmonellosis, tularemia, campylobacteriosis, psittacosis, and yersiniosis, a disease that causes fever, diarrhea, and stomach pain in humans.
Campylobacteriosis and salmonellosis are generally spread through contact with infected feces or by consuming contaminated food, and cat scratch disease is passed from infected cats through scratches and bites. Psittacosis is passed from birds to humans, and humans who eat infected rabbit may become ill with tularemia. Lyme disease occurs when a tick bites an infected mouse, dog, or other animal, picks up the B. burgdorferi bacteria, and then bites a human.
Zoonotic Fungal Infections
Many fungal infections are transmissible from pets to humans. Ringworm is the most common of these and causes a ring-shaped patch of scaly or crusty skin and hair loss. It is transmitted via direct contact with infected skin or hair and is highly contagious. While ringworm is rarely serious, it can be difficult to treat, especially if widespread infection occurs. You must take measures to prevent the spread of ringworm by covering infected areas, isolating animals with widespread infection, and through proper hand washing and hygiene.
Zoonotic Parasitic Diseases
Cryptosporidiosis and giardias are two of the more common parasitic diseases to affect both humans and animals. Both cause severe diarrhea and are passed via infected stools. Toxoplasmosis, another parasitic disease, is a leading cause of foodborne illness and related death in the United States, according to the CDC. Toxoplasmosis is extremely common in humans, with more than 60 million people carrying the parasite asymptomatically. The disease is usually spread via cat feces, but eating undercooked meat is another means of catching the parasite.
Tapeworms, hookworms, and roundworms are also transmissible from animals to humans. Infection with these can cause serious illness in some people, but most worm infections are easily treatable. If you suspect you or your pet is infected with a zoonotic parasite, contact your doctor or veterinarian right away.
Other Zoonotic Diseases
Two other notable zoonotic diseases are rabies and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Rabies is nearly always fatal without prompt treatment and is spread through the bite of an infected animal. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is caused by a bacterium called Rickettsia rickettsii and is carried by ticks. Infection with other zoonotic diseases is possible, especially in certain areas of the United States. Discuss the risk of catching such diseases with your doctor.