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Our Own Dr. Jennifer Fletcher Was Featured in This Weekend’s Patriot News Discussing Preventative Care for Pets!

Health risks from pets can be avoided with preventive care. Written by NOREEN LIVOTI, For The Patriot-News 6-24-12 They sleep on our beds, keep us company and their greetings never fail to make us smile: Whatever their breed, pets are part of the family. But while they considerably lighten our moods, they also can cause health risks to their owners. Zoonoses — diseases that can be transmitted between species — pose problems for pet lovers, but can be avoided with proper hygiene and preventive care. Rabies According to Dr. Renee Richards, veterinarian at Willow Mill Veterinary Hospital in Silver Spring Twp., the most serious disease pets can pass to their people is rabies. “Technically, it’s a fatal disease,” she said, with only a handful of cases of human survival documented. Without a vaccine, dogs and cats are both at risk for rabies and can be infected through the bite of a rabid animal. “The biggest argument I hear from pet owners is, ‘My cat never goes outside,’” Richards said. “That’s a much safer lifestyle, but rabid animals do very strange things.” For example, a cat she treated came in contact with a rabid raccoon that made its way into a home. Giving your pets up-to-date rabies shots is not only the best way to keep it away from them and your human loved ones, it’s also state law because of the public health risk. Plus, the only way to test an animal for rabies is by euthanizing them — so prevention is truly the best medicine. “That’s a hard thing to have to be facing because you didn’t do a rabies vaccine,” she said. Parasites For most dog owners, daily walks mean a collar, leash — and several bags for Fido’s waste. “A lot of the diseases you would catch from your pets are related to the stuff in their feces or where they go to the bathroom,” said Dr. Randal Medzoyan, pediatrician with Good Samaritan Pediatrics in Lebanon. Intestinal parasites, including roundworms, tapeworms and hookworms, are found in canine waste, but can also infect feces of cats, raccoons and other wildlife, Medzoyan said. “Eggs are in the soil and they become larvae,” said Dr. Jennifer Fletcher, veterinarian at the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County in West Hanover Twp. “People can contract them by walking on the ground and having the larvae enter their feet,” or by ingesting the soil. Places that animals use as their latrine “are areas that need to be avoided,” Medzoyan said, especially by kids, who are most at risk for getting dirt in their mouths. It’s also important to deworm all puppies and kittens for the first few weeks of their lives and to use a monthly preventive after that. These parasites are easily brought into homes on shoes, “so even though they’re indoor pets, they’re at risk for being exposed,” Richards said. Giardia and Lyme disease Many zoonotic diseases rely on secondary sources for transmission. For example, while you can’t catch it directly from each other, Lyme disease is another common parasitic problem: Ticks hitch a ride inside with your pet — and onto you. “If you’re not using the proper flea and tick control, those parasites are on the pet,” Richards said. Giardia, a commonly contracted intestinal parasite, also relies on an indirect passage, Fletcher said. “Animals shed the eggs of the parasites in their feces, so anything contaminated with those eggs and passed into the mouth in any sort of way can occur.” Giardia is often found in water sources, including clean-looking wells and streams — so drinking from that mountain lake might not be the best choice. The most important rule? “Washing hands frequently is the No. 1 way of preventing disease transmission,” as well as keeping your pet healthy, Fletcher said. “With the economy being what it is, people are looking for places to cut back,” Richards said. “One decision we’re seeing is to cut back on their monthly heartworm and flea and tick preventive. The concern for that is, that leaves those pets at risk to diseases that can be transmitted to people.” Ringworm and Toxoplasmosis Fido gets blamed for many common zoonoses, but don’t put a halo on Fluffy quite yet: Fungal infection ringworm and parasitic disease toxoplasmosis often come from cats. Typically, pregnant women are warned to steer clear of litter boxes, the breeding area for toxoplasmosis, a disease that can cause serious side effects or even death for mother and unborn child. While often in cat stool, if the spores are left to dry, it can also release into the air and inhaled. Plus, ringworm resides on cats’ nails, skin and hair: “A large percentage have no signs of having it,” Richards said. Keeping your cat clean — and washing your hands often — can keep both infections at bay. Richards says to clean the litter box every 24 hours. “I know some women who wear gloves and a mask when they’re doing their litter box,” she said. “I know some who are careful to wash their hands, not stir things up real heavily, and do it every day. And I know others who take the excuse to make their husbands do it.” Salmonellosis They may be hypoallergenic, but that doesn’t mean slithery pets like frogs, turtles and snakes can’t make you sick. “Reptiles are known for carrying salmonella,” Fletcher said. And backyard chickens can also carry salmonella. A recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine said that since 2004, more than 315 people in 43 states have gotten sick from an outbreak tied to a mail-order hatchery. The bacteria can come from the birds’ feet, feathers, beaks and eggs. “Most people can tell you that chicken meat may have salmonella on it,” Casey Barton Behravesh of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in an Associated Press story. “But surprisingly, we found many people are not aware that live chicks and chickens can spread salmonella to people.” Ingesting the bacteria can make you feel worse than when you had the stomach flu. “The younger you are, the less germ it takes to make you sick,” Medzoyan said. Infants could easily consume enough salmonella to cause a major problem, even if it wouldn’t be enough to make someone older ill. Salmonella also can survive on surfaces for long periods of time: “There was a story of someone who caught it off the leather jacket of a family friend who owns a python,” Medzoyan said. “The python wasn’t even there.” Still, he added, “most people with pets actually rarely catch anything from their pets,” and it’s improbable for people to transfer diseases to their animals. While the parasites and salmonellosis could spread, “it’s fairly unlikely,” Fletcher said. Good hygiene, especially by washing hands after handling waste products and before eating, and keeping your pet healthy are paramount — and can keep you from these illnesses altogether. “Most people who have pets aren’t any sicker than anyone else,” Medzoyan said. “People who use common-sense precautions are not likely to have any issues.” http://www.pennlive.com/bodyandmind/index.ssf/2012/06/good_hygiene_preventive_care_c.html