Information for Patients
Animal Diseases and Your Health
Also called: Zoonoses
Animal diseases that people can catch are called zoonoses. Many diseases affecting humans can be traced to animals or animal products. You can get a disease directly from an animal, or indirectly, through the environment.
Farm animals can carry diseases. If you touch them or things they have touched, like fencing or buckets, wash your hands thoroughly. Adults should make sure children who visit farms or petting zoos wash up as well.
Though they may be cute and cuddly, wild animals may carry germs, viruses, and parasites. Deer and deer mice carry ticks that cause Lyme disease. Some wild animals may carry rabies. Enjoy wildlife from a distance.
Pets can also make you sick. Reptiles pose a particular risk. Turtles, snakes and iguanas can transmit Salmonella bacteria to their owners. You can get rabies from an infected dog or toxoplasmosis from handling kitty litter of an infected cat. The chance that your dog or cat will make you sick is small. You can reduce the risk by practicing good hygiene, keeping pet areas clean and keeping your pets' shots up-to-date.
Bacteria are living things that have only one cell. Under a microscope, they look like balls, rods, or spirals. They are so small that a line of 1,000 could fit across a pencil eraser. Most bacteria won't hurt you - less than 1 percent of the different types make people sick. Many are helpful. Some bacteria help to digest food, destroy disease-causing cells, and give the body needed vitamins. Bacteria are also used in making healthy foods like yogurt and cheese.
But infectious bacteria can make you ill. They reproduce quickly in your body. Many give off chemicals called toxins, which can damage tissue and make you sick. Examples of bacteria that cause infections include Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and E. coli.
Antibiotics are the usual treatment. When you take antibiotics, follow the directions carefully. Each time you take antibiotics, you increase the chances that bacteria in your body will learn to resist them causing antibiotic resistance. Later, you could get or spread an infection that those antibiotics cannot cure.
NIH: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
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