Can I catch that from my pet? This is a common question we hear as veterinarians, and as such have made this a recurring topic. This week we debunk some myths and talk about stuff pets are sometimes blamed for - but are highly unlikely to have been obtained from your pet.
Zoonotic diseases are infectious illnesses - think viruses, bacterial infections, fungal infections, or parasites - that can be spread between animals and humans. Zoonotic diseases can be spread both ways, from animal to person AND from person to animal. In veterinary medicine, we take zoonotic diseases very seriously to keep both the pets we care for and their humans healthy! That said, we have had, at times needed to field questions about diseases that perhaps a misinformed friend, “Dr. Google” and on occasion human medical doctors have blamed on the pets.
Pinworms & Head Lice
Pinworms is an intestinal worm that is commonly found in young school-aged children. The primary symptom is having an itchy rear-end and they are passed easily from child to child - mostly because children don’t think to wash their hands after scratching their bums. Sandboxes can also be common places for pinworms to pass between children. The important thing to know is that pinworms do not infect dogs and cats, so your pets are innocent!
Head Lice are tiny insects that love to live on human heads and hair, feeding on human blood. They often cause an itchy scalp and the lice or eggs may be visible on close inspection. There are many types of lice that exist, but the human head louse only wants to live on people. You won’t find these lice on other animals, so no need to inspect Fluffy!
Pinworms and Head Lice video: https://capcvet.org/videos/headlice-and-pinworms/
Streptococcal pharyngitis or “strep throat” is caused by a bacterial infection from Streptococcus pyogenes (group A strep). The natural host for this bacteria is humans. Some people even carry this bacteria as part of their normal flora without having symptoms. This bacteria is not found on our pets, except very transiently - i.e. for a day or two, but it doesn’t truly colonize in dogs. The reality is that if you catch strep throat, you got it from another human! Some human doctors will request that dogs in the household be treated in family situations where people are repeatedly getting infected. The only time this remotely almost makes sense is if all the humans are also treated at the same time - but even then, the human carrier in the family will likely continue to be a carrier and continue to be a source of repeated infections.
Lyme disease can infect both dogs and humans, but you can’t catch it directly from Fido! Lyme disease is a tick-borne disease, meaning that ticks carry this disease transmit it to a dog or person that they bite for a blood-meal. This is one of the many reasons we recommend year-round flea and tick prevention and annual screening for Lyme disease for all dogs! It’s also why people should check themselves thoroughly for ticks after spending time in the woods...ticks are very skilled at crawling up under a pant leg or sleeve.
Lyme disease in people: https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/index.html
Lyme disease in dogs: https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/lyme-disease.aspx
Photo c/o Nikkie Stardust on Flickr