The Healthy Geezer: Wash your hands around animals

By Fred Cicetti

The coronavirus that started in China may have come from animals. Many coronaviruses are zoonoses, which means they spread from animals to people. 

Two coronaviruses in the recent past probably passed to humans from bats. These are severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012.

You can get a zoonose from a household pet. 

Psittacosis is a common bird disease known as “parrot fever.” It occurs frequently in birds such as parakeets and cockatiels. Bacteria in bird droppings and nasal discharges can be inhaled. Psittacosis can develop into pneumonia and other health problems. 

To help prevent transmission of psittacosis, don’t let birds fly around the house. Wash your hands after contact with birds. Wear a dust mask and gloves when cleaning a bird cage. Antibacterial drugs are used to treat the disease in birds and people.

Cats can carry a parasite that causes the disease toxoplasmosis. You can get it from cat feces. Wearing gloves while gardening or changing a cat’s litter box is important. Washing your hands afterward is advised. 

Few people who carry the toxoplasma parasite become ill. Those who get sick may suffer from swollen glands and muscle aches. Antimicrobial drugs are available to treat infected people.

Worms can infect dogs, cats and humans. Worms live in the intestines of animals and are expelled in the stool. Yards and homes can become contaminated from worm eggs that are passed in animal feces and hatch in the soil.  

Just one roundworm larva has been known to damage the retina of the eye and cause blindness. Hookworm larvae can cause painful inflammation where they crawl just below the skin’s surface. Drugs are available to destroy worms that infect dogs, cats and people. 

People usually get salmonellosis by eating contaminated food. But it can also be transmitted to people through pets, particularly reptiles, baby chicks and ducklings, which commonly pass the Salmonella bacterium in their feces.

People have to be especially careful around reptiles. You should not let them roam freely through the house. Always wash your hands with hot, soapy water after handling reptiles or anything they contact.

Most persons infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. Most victims recover without treatment. The elderly are more likely to have more severe symptoms. 

Ringworm, a skin and scalp disease, is caused by fungi. People get it by touching an infected animal. Ringworm can infect cats, dogs, horses and other animals. In humans, ringworm may produce a ring-shaped, reddish, itchy rash. Topical and oral medications may be used to treat ringworm.

Cat-scratch disease (CSD) may cause fever, fatigue, headache and swollen lymph glands. Most people get better on their own in about three weeks. Most cat scratches don’t develop into CSD. If you are bitten or scratched, wash the area immediately with soap and water. 

Rabies, a deadly viral disease, is transmitted through the saliva of a rabid animal, usually by a bite. Domestic animals account for less than 10% of the reported animal rabies cases. If you are bitten, immediately wash the wound with soap and water, let the wound bleed, and get medical help at once. 

Mycobacterium is one of the main infectious germ families associated with fish and aquarium water. A common route of this infection in humans is through cuts or scrapes on hands or feet. People should wear rubber gloves when cleaning the fish tank and wash their hands well afterward. 

If I haven’t mentioned this before, wash your hands often when you are around animals.