They are called “zoonoses”, these diseases transmitted to humans by animals, whether wild or. Although the beneficial aspect of the presence of pets outweighs the risks, cohabitation the risk of contamination, especially if the simple rules of hygiene and prevention are not respected.
Bites, the first danger
The injuries most related to pets, bites (mainly from dogs or cats), can cause serious injuries and bacterial infection. “If the bites of dogs are sometimes impressive, those of cats, with their fine and pointed teeth, are less extensive but deeper, and can reach the bone or the joints and lead to more severe developments”, notes Professor Christian Chuard , head physician of the Infectiology Unit at the Friborg Hospital. Regardless of their size, bite wounds have resulted in the transmission of bacteria.
Among the many bacteria present in the mouth of dogs and cats, those of the genus Pasteurella are the most widespread. They are thus found in 75% of infections following a cat bite and in 50% of those following a dog bite. Pasteurellosis can cause sharp pain, swelling of certain lymph nodes, fever, and even joint complications.
Cat scratch disease is due to another bacterium (Bartonella) transmitted by biting, licking or scratching cats, especially when they are young. “Children are particularly concerned, because they are more exposed to cat scratches”, notes Dr Noémie Boillat Blanco, doctor associated with the Infectious Diseases Department of the Vaud University Hospital Center (CHUV).
How to react?
The bite of a dog or cat should never be trivialized, even if it seems harmless. The first thing to do is to carefully disinfect the wound. “If the injury is confirmed or severe, a quick consultation, and possibly the implementation of preventive antibiotic treatment is recommended, especially in immunosuppressed people, recalls Noémie Boillat Blanco. It is imperative to act quickly because the time between the bite and the infection is very short (6 to 24 hours). A reminder of the tetanus vaccine (a potentially fatal bacterial infection) can also be offered if the vaccination record is not up to date.
Washing your hands, the good reflex
Most often mild, faecal-oral infections (transmission via feces) in pet owners are carried out.
Toxoplasmosis is feared by pregnant women because it carries a risk of brain damage and even death for the fetus. This disease is due to a parasitic infection present in particular in the stools of the cat – itself infected by a bird or a rodent. According to the Federal Office of Public Health, a third of women of childbearing age have already been in contact with the pathogen and are therefore immunized. “But the first source of contamination for humans remains the consumption of raw or undercooked meat,” recalls Christian Chuard.
Ascariasis and toxocariasis are intestinal parasitic infections that can be transmitted by cats and dogs, often carriers of these worms. Young children are more at risk of infection when playing in areas soiled with animal feces. But these infections are generally little or not symptomatic.
Echinococcosis is a very rare parasitic disease transmitted by foxes and even dogs and cats that hunt rodents. It is initially asymptomatic but can lead to long-term liver complications.
Reptiles, especially turtles, snakes and iguanas, but also dogs, cats or birds, can carry Salmonella. This germ can cause salmonellosis, a potentially severe and dangerous gastroenteritis, especially for young children.
Finally, all species of domestic animals are likely to transmit a skin infection called dermatophytosis, by simple contact, linked to the presence of a fungus on the coat. This is the case with ringworm (transmitted in particular by rabbits, guinea pigs and cats), which causes red circular patches in humans.
How to guard against it?
Recommended hand hygiene is essential, especially when cleaning litter boxes and terrariums, picking up stools, and working the land. “Making your pet sleep on its bed, kissing it on the mouth, are also practices that should be avoided”, recalls Dr. Marie Müller-Klauser, veterinarian and vice-president of the Swiss Medical Association. small animals.
To limit parasitic contamination of dogs and cats, regular deworming (quarterly or even monthly), depending on the animal’s lifestyle, is necessary. “We also advise owners not to follow the trend of BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food), raw meat which presents a risk of contamination by salmonella or campylobacter,” adds the veterinarian.
Finally, in the event of symptoms such as energy, fever, or even swollen glands, in particular in populations at risk (children, pregnant women, immunosuppressed people), a medical consultation is necessary.
Watch out for ticks and fleas
If the first risk of tick bite occurs during walks in the open air, pets can also carry these little beasts. “But once the tick is well attached to the animal, the risk that it changes host and bites the human is low,” specifies Christian Chuard.
Among the diseases transmitted by ticks, Lyme disease, or borreliosis, is the most common. It can lead to neurological, cardiac or joint inflammation. Each year, 10,000 people are infected in Switzerland.
Less common, tick-borne encephalitis has appeared in certain regions of Switzerland, and can cause significant symptoms.
Finally, let’s not forget the fleas that can cause severe itching in humans.
How to guard against it?
Repellents are strongly recommended to protect dogs and cats from fleas and ticks. After a walk in the open air, a careful inspection of his pet can help decelerate the presence of ticks in his coat.
Terrestrial rabies has not been present in Switzerland since 1996, and the majority of domestic animals are now vaccinated. But in the event of a bite by a stray or illegally imported animal, it is important to quickly consult a doctor to set up preventive vaccination.
Published in Le Matin Dimanche on 09/25/2022