Sunday, July 13, 2014

Family Pets, Zoonoses & An Upcoming COCA Call


The undisputed ruler of my house


# 8829


An oft-repeated factoid in this blog is that 70% of the infectious diseases plaguing humans began in other species, and then adapted to people. Most of these diseases only began to appear in humans after we – as a species – began to domesticate animals roughly 10,000 years ago (see The Third Epidemiological Transition).


That process continues to this day, with new zoonotic diseases emerging practically every year.  The list over just the past few years includes MERS-CoV, H7N9, H10N8, H6N1, Swine Variant Viruses, SFTS, and the Heartland Virus


All of which illustrates the importance of the `One Health Concept’, where human, animal, and environmental health are all viewed as being interconnected (see the One Health Initiative website). And while we watch these exotic emerging diseases coming from the wild (or agriculture) with concern, in truth, your next zoonotic disease exposure may just as easily come via your family pet.


This week, the media has been filled with reports of an exceedingly rare case of  Pneumonic plague found in a Colorado resident and pet dog, and while the chain of transmission in this case isn’t entirely clear, we’ve seen other cases where pets have picked up infected fleas and brought plague home with them.


Credit CDC Plague fact sheet


Earlier this year, in Transmission Of Bovine TB From Felines To Humans – UK, we looked at a report on two rare human infections with M. bovis – both associated with an outbreak in cats – which likely became infected via contact (directly or indirectly) with badger setts (dens).

Although you are more likely to be infected from undercooked meat or unwashed fruits and vegetables than from your family pet, in Toxoplasmosis: Some Intriguing Para-Cites, we looked at the risks of zoonotic transmission from this fascinating parasite back in 2012.


And it will probably surprise a lot of my readers that every year about 200 people are infected with flea-borne typhus in the United States (mostly in California, Hawaii, or Texas), often brought home by a family pet.  This from the California Department of Public Health:

What animals can carry the typhus bacteria?

In the United States, rats, opossums, and other small mammals can carry the typhus bacteria. Rat fleas (Xenopsylla cheopis) and cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) are most commonly associated with disease transmission. Fleas may become infected when they feed on these animals and then can transmit the bacteria to humans, pet dogs, and cats.


And perhaps most infamously, a little over a decade ago – the United States experienced an unprecedented outbreak of Monkeypox  - when an animal distributor imported hundreds of small animals from Ghana, which in turn infected prairie dogs that were subsequently sold to the public (see 2003 MMWR Multistate Outbreak of Monkeypox --- Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, 2003).


Although plague, typhus, TB, Monkeypox, and rabies infections are all possible (albeit rare) zoonotic infections, far more likely are the risks of contracting enteric (intestinal) infections from pathogens carried by animals - including household pets - such as Salmonella, E.coli, and Cryptosporidium. 


  • In June of 2012, in That Duck May Look Clean, But . . . , I wrote about a CDC investigation into an outbreak of Salmonella Montevideo involving 66 persons across 20 states linked to the handling of live poultry (baby chicks or ducklings or both) sold via mail-order hatcheries and  agricultural feed stores.
  • Similar warnings have gone out in the past regarding Human Salmonella Infections Linked to Small Turtles.  Like poultry, reptiles and amphibians can sometimes carry and spread the salmonella bacteria, which makes good hand hygiene particularly important after handling them.


All of which serves as a lead up to a CDC COCA Call, scheduled for next Thursday (July 17th), called:


Love the Pets, Not the Germs: CDC Update on Enteric Zoonoses 

Image of Continuing Education Credits abbreviation. = Free Continuing Education

Date:Thursday, July 17, 2014         Time: 2:00 – 3:00 PM (Eastern Time)

Participate by phone

Audio Bridge Line: 888-913-9971

Participant Code: 7400152

International number:212-547-0138

Participate by webinar


Kara Jacobs Slifka, MD, MPH
Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer
Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases
National Center for Emerging & Zoonotic Infectious Diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Colin Basler, DVM, MPH
Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer
Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases
National Center for Emerging & Zoonotic Infectious Diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Enteric illnesses are common, costly, preventable, and increasingly attributable to animal contact. Animals provide many benefits to people; however, even clean and healthy animals may be responsible for spreading germs such as Salmonella, E.coli O157:H7, and Cryptosporidium, some of the frequent causes of diarrheal illness in children and adults. During this COCA call, clinicians will learn about enteric zoonoses, and the ‘One Health’ approach to helping patients prevent illness and maintain optimal health.


For more on family pets and zoonotic diseases you may wish to revisit:


Disease Transmission At The Human-Animal Interface

How Parrot Fever Changed Public Health In America

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