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How To Prevent Infections From Animals

When it comes to companionship, you don't get much better than a pet. Man's best friend, in fact. Be it feathered or furry, the unconditional love a pet brings to a home can be priceless. But no matter how much you love your pets, you need to know they carry specific germs that can make you and your family sick. In this article, we will learn about several pet infections, including:

  • Preventing Animal BitesAnimal bites usually result from an unfortunate altercation with a household pet, especially a dog or cat -- putting especially children at risk. In fact, wild animals account for only 5 percent of animal bites each year. Most bites, if washed and treated properly, will heal and leave you with no more than a sour memory, but if neglected, they can cause skin infections or more serious diseases like tetanus or rabies. Household pets should be given their shots, and children should be taught to avoid strangers' animals.
  • Preventing Cat Scratch FeverEven though household felines appear cute and cuddly, 40 percent of cats carry the bacteria at some point in their lives that can causes cat scratch fever. They can infect you through a scratch or a bite, or even licking your open wound, since the B. henselae bacteria is carried in cat saliva. Most people will recover naturally from cat scratch fever but some may need antibiotics.
  • Preventing Parrot FeverParrot fever is not common, and usually infects those who work in a turkey-processing plant or have some other daily contact with birds including parrots, parakeets, macaws, cockatiels, lovebirds, pigeons, or doves. People become infected when they inhale bird remnants, including shed feathers or dust from dried bird droppings. The symptoms don't arise immediately, and if left untreated a serious case of parrot fever can lead to pneumonia or affect the liver. Antibiotics usually do the job.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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While dog bites are more common, they are much less dangerous than cat bites.

Your pets may be lovable, but they are animals, so they have the potential to bite. Dogs are much more likely to be aggressive than cats, but cat bites are more likely to cause an infection. Because cats' sharp teeth penetrate farther underneath the skin, as many as 50 percent of cat bites get infected. Wild animals, such as raccoons, squirrels, or rodents, only account for about 5 percent of animal bites each year.

Although animal bites can cause a variety of problems that range from mild skin infections to more serious diseases, such as tetanus and rabies, the vast majority of bites, if treated properly, will leave you with nothing more than a painful reminder to be more careful around animals. If you develop a fever and/or progressive swelling, redness, and pain at the bite site, however, see a physician as soon as possible to be sure you haven't contracted anything through your bite. Likewise, you should visit a physician if you suspect a rabid animal has bitten you.

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Follow these steps if you suffer an animal bite:

  1. Thoroughly wash the wound with mild soap and water for three to five minutes.
  2. Treat the wound with an antibiotic ointment and cover it with a clean dressing.
  3. If the bite is on the hands or fingers, see a physician right away. Bites on these body parts are most likely to result in a more serious infection and need to be treated more cautiously.
  4. Watch the wound for the next day or two; if there is any redness, swelling, or pain, it may be infected. If so, head to your physician or the emergency room.

Defensive MeasuresThe most effective way to prevent infection is by curbing risky animal behavior. This requires a two-fold approach: Be sure you and your children know how to deal with animals, and be sure your pets know how to deal with people. Follow these tips:

  • Pets need people. Dogs and cats that are used to being around lots of people are less likely to become aggressive when someone new visits your home. Animals that spend too much time alone tend to be more belligerent.
  • Don't pet strangers. You teach your children not to talk to strangers, but you also should teach them not to approach or pet a strange animal. Even a sweet-looking little kitty can leave a nasty bite or scratch.
  • Avoid aggravation. Teasing his brother is one thing, but teasing the neighbor's dog is another. Be sure kids know not to provoke (kick, poke, pull, or chase) an animal. Never bother a dog that is eating, sleeping, or otherwise engaged.
  • Send Fido to school. Send your dog to obedience school to learn how to handle aggressive tendencies.
  • Give them a shot. Be sure your pets are up to date on their rabies vaccinations, so even if one of them lashes out, there'll be less chance of a serious infection.
  • Neutralize aggression. Neuter your pets as soon as possible (ask your vet about the most appropriate time); pets that are neutered are calmer and less likely to react aggressively.
  • Only watch the wild. Don't go near wild animals. Stay away from raccoons, squirrels, rodents, and other outdoor critters, even if they are hurt. Animals such as skunks and raccoons are nocturnal, so if you see one wandering down the street in the middle of the day, chances are good it is sick and you should head the other direction and call animal control.

In the next section, you will learn about cat scratch fever, another unfortunate infection caused by the otherwise cute and cuddly household pets. You might get cat scratch fever if your cat bites or scratches you, or licks your open wound.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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A feline carries the bacteria that causes  cat scratch fever in their saliva.

You can contract cat scratch disease when a cat infected with B. henselae bacteria scratches or bites you. Because the bacteria are found in cat saliva, you can also get the disease if an infected cat licks an open wound on your body. Forty percent of those cuddly cuties carry B. henselae bacteria at some point in their lives, but kittens are more likely to harbor them than are adult cats. Felines that spend their entire lives indoors are less likely to transmit the disease.

The first sign that you have cat scratch disease is a bump or blister at the site of the scratch or bite. You might get a mild fever, headache, and just an overall sick and fatigued feeling. After two or three weeks, enlarged lymph glands might develop and can linger for months. Most people will get over cat scratch disease without treatment, but severe cases are treated with antibiotics.

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The Culprit

The bacterium Bartonella henselae causes cat scratch disease.

Who's at Risk?

Anyone who gets scratched or bitten by an infected cat is at risk for cat scratch disease, but those who have a weakened immune system are more likely to suffer serious symptoms, such as appetite loss, weight loss, and an enlarged spleen. These people will likely need to be treated with antibiotics to fully recover.

Defensive Measures

Because cats that are infected with the B. henselae bacterium exhibit no symptoms, and because the bacterium doesn't make cats sick, it's difficult to know whether yours is infected. However, you can take some preventative measures:

  • Avoid aggressive play with any cat.
  • Some types of fleas carry the B. henselae bacterium, so keeping fleas away from your feline can help keep infection at bay. Ask your veterinarian about flea collars or other treatments to keep fleas off your cat. People cannot get the infection from fleas.
  • If you are bitten or scratched, wash the site immediately with mild soap and water.
  • Don't let your cat lick any of your open wounds.

In the final section, we will discuss parrot fever, which people can contact if they inhale bird remnants such as feathers or dust from dried bird droppings. Parrot fever is rare, but it can be dangerous.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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Parrot fever is extremely rare, and is highly treatable with antibiotics.

Parrots, parakeets, macaws, cockatiels, and lovebirds can all carry the bacterium that spreads parrot fever. More common birds, such as pigeons and doves, can also be carriers. Outbreaks of parrot fever have also occurred in turkey-processing plants. People become infected when they inhale bird remnants, including shed feathers or dust from dried bird droppings, even if the bird itself is not present.

If you've been infected with the parrot fever bug, you will start showing symptoms in about five to 14 days. A moderate case of parrot fever will cause appetite loss and give you a headache, fever, chills, fatigue, and cough. If left untreated, parrot fever can lead to pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs) and affect the liver. Antibiotics will take care of most cases of parrot fever, and the vast majority of infected people recover completely.

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The Culprit

The bacterium Chlamydia psittaci is the cause of parrot fever.

Who's at Risk?

Parrot fever is very rare; in fact, only about 100 to 200 cases are reported each year in the United States. Most at risk are people who handle birds regularly, such as those who have pet birds, pet shop owners, and zookeepers. The elderly and people with weakened immune systems might develop a more severe case of parrot fever.

Defensive Measures

If you have a pet bird, keep an eagle eye on your feathery friend. Although some birds infected with C. psittaci show no symptoms, some do show signs of illness. Birds with avian psittacosis are lethargic, won't eat, and have ruffled feathers, diarrhea, runny eyes and nose, and green or yellow-green urine. If your bird shows these signs, avoid handling it as much as possible, and visit your vet to get some antibiotics.

You should also clean the birdcage regularly, but be careful when doing so. Wearing a mask and gloves will help protect you from potentially infectious materials. Clean the cage with a disinfectant to kill any harmful bacteria that might be lingering there.

Animal infections like tetanus, rabies, cat scratch fever and parrot fever can be prevented even though you interact with your household pets every day. Take measures to stop aggressive behavior by or toward animals around you, and you'll decrease the risk of animal bites. In addition, follow the simple steps outlined in this article, and you are your pets will live in perfect harmony.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Laurie L. Dove is an award winning Kansas-based journalist and author whose work has been published internationally. A dedicated consumer advocate, Dove specializes in writing about health, parenting, fitness and travel. An active member of the National Federation of Press Women, Dove also is the former owner of a parenting magazine and a weekly newspaper.

ABOUT THE CONSULTANT:

Dr. Larry Lutwick is a Professor of Medicine at the State University of New York - Downstate Medical School in Brooklyn, New York and Director of Infectious Diseases, Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Health Care System, Brooklyn Campus.  He is also Bacterial Diseases Moderator for the real time online infectious diseases surveillance system, Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED-mail) and has authored more than 100 medical articles and 15 book chapters. He has edited two books on infectious diseases.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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