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Zoonoses are disease that can be transmitted from animals to man and vice versa! An example of a man to animal zoonosis is tuberculosis. In the UK we have been extremely fortunate in that it has been very unusual for us to catch something from our pets. However this may change as more and more people take their pets abroad and return with them without needing to undertake the previous quarantine requirements.

Rabies is the most commonly feared zoonosis and has been the centre of much media attention due to the relaxation of quarantine requirements. Its symptoms have been widely discussed and it has been the main point of discussion in the quarantine saga. However there are other infections which may well have been overlooked are capable of causing death to man. These have been isolated in the past by regulations aimed at rabies.

Examples are:

Babesiosis - it can cause jaundice, renal failure, and progress to death, particularly in immuno-compromised people. A dog recently died of this having travelled to and returned from France under the PETS travel scheme.

Leishmaniasis - is a protozoal disease that is common around the Mediterranean. It is transmitted by certain flies and can be brought back via dogs returning from the continent.

Animals which present the main source of infection to man are cats and dogs. Even so it is very unusual to catch anything. Some of the infections potentially transferable are described below:

Toxocara Canis (Toxocariasis or Visceral Larva Migrans) : Again the media have made much of roundworm infection leading to blindness especially in young children. However it is very rare. Blood tests have demonstrated that people who work with animals tend to build up a high level of resistance and even in young children there are few clinical signs. However it is important to ensure that young children do not crawl or play where dogs have daefecated even after cleaning up. Children should not allow dogs to lick them or drink/eat from the same utensils.

Salmonellis: Salmonella can be carried by both man and dogs and can cause food poisoning. Dog to human transmission is usually by direct contact and the young, elderley or immuno-suppressed are most at risk.

Ringworm: This infection can be caught from both cats and dogs even when the animal in question is showing no obvious signs of infection. However it is not serious and there are effective remedies. Nevertheless it can be extremely irritating. Dog/cat to human transmission is usually by direct contact and the young, elderly or immuno-suppressed are most at risk.

Scabies (Sarcoptic mange): This is a tiny mite, which lives on/in the skin causing extreme itching. It is particularly prevalent in areas with a high fox population. The foxes rub themselves against trees, fences, etc and when the dog investigates the scent it picks up the mite. There are some very effective remedies for mange and it is soon cleared up.

Toxoplasma: This infection is carried by cats and can present a serious problem to pregnant women who come into contact with it for the first time. Impermeable rubber gloves should be worn to avoid infection. Approximately 50% of the population will be infected with Toxoplasma at some stage during their lifetime. Fortunately it only usually causes brief flu like symptoms and results in good immunity. However the most likely way of becoming infected is through eating undercooked meat unpasteurised dairy products or vegetables.

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