MONDAY, April 20, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Pets can transfer infections to humans, especially young children, seniors, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems, experts report.
Pet owners and health care providers need to be aware of this risk and take steps to protect vulnerable people, said the authors of a review published in the April 20 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
"Studies suggest physicians do not regularly ask about pet contact, nor do they discuss the risks of zoonotic diseases with patients, regardless of the patient's immune status," said Dr. Jason Stull in a journal news release. He is an assistant professor in the department of veterinary preventive medicine at Ohio State University.
A zoonotic disease is one that can be passed between animals and humans.
All pets can transmit diseases to people, including salmonella, drug-resistant bacteria, campylobacter, and parasitic diseases such as hookworm, roundworm and toxoplasmosis. The infections can be transmitted through bites, scratches, saliva and contact with feces. Reptiles and amphibians can transmit diseases indirectly, such as on contaminated surfaces.
"Reptiles and amphibians are estimated to be responsible for 11 percent of all sporadic salmonella infections among patients less than 21 years of age, and direct contact with such animals is not required for zoonotic transmission," the researchers noted.
"In one study, 31 percent of reptile-associated salmonellosis cases occurred in children less than 5 years of age and 17 percent occurred in children aged 1 year or younger; these findings highlight the heightened risk in children and the potential for reptile-associated salmonella to be transmitted without direct contact with the animal or its enclosure," they added.
The researchers said there are a number of simple ways to reduce the risk of pets infecting people. These include: wearing protective gloves to clean aquariums and cages and to remove feces; proper hand washing after contact with pets; discouraging pets from licking faces, and regular cleaning and disinfection of animal cages, feeding areas and bedding.
Other measures include: covering playground boxes when not in use; placing litter boxes away from areas where people eat and prepare food; avoiding contact with exotic animals; regular veterinary visits for all pets, and not getting a new pet until everyone's immune system is healthy.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about pets and people with weakened immune systems.