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Posted on 10-10-2018

As a practicing veterinarian, I receive many calls regarding zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic diseases are those infections transmissible between humans and animals and vice versa. The calls I receive often involve questions about disease testing of animals to identify or rule out a pet as a source of an infection in a human. Here are some of the thoughts I have about whether, or not, testing of the pets is the best approach to use when a physician is trying to resolve a medical problem it the human owners.

            First and foremost, appropriate testing needs to have already been performed, by the physician (often in conjunction with infectious disease specialists and with advanced diagnostic testing), to accurately diagnose infectious or parasitic disease in the patient. The patient must seek out this information before ever reaching out to the veterinarian with questions and concerns. Guessing at what zoonosis an animal MIGHT have passed to a human is pointless until a diagnosis has been made.

            Testing a healthy animal for zoonoses in not indicated in most cases, unless there is a high potential for the animal to infect others, or there is an outbreak situation. Testing requires time, money and effort, and the results do not always correlate with the risk of spread to humans. False positive and false negative results can occur in some testing procedures. Shedding of pathogens can be intermittent, so samples can be negative at any given point.

            What is the cost of testing? I mean the cost in terms of money, time, emotion, effort, and health to all involved? Is there a real need to know the source? Knowing whether, or not, the animal is the source will not change the course of treatment in the human. In my opinion, if it is important enough to put a healthy animal through testing, then the search to find the source of the human infection should not stop when there is a negative test result.

            Most zoonoses acquired directly from animals can be avoided by measures such as 20 second hand washing after animal contact, and avoiding contact with an animal’s nose, muzzle, tongue, and anal regions. Keeping the pet in good health, and practicing good husbandry also decrease risk. Wearing gloves when cleaning litter boxes and poop scooping the yard is good practice. There is very rarely a reason for a pet owner to get rid of the pet. Of course, in cases of immune compromise the conversation will be different.

            In cases of suspected or confirmed zoonotic disease, both the physician and the veterinarian should contact the state health department for consultation with the State Public Health Veterinarian.

            Until next time…Thanks for Caring!!


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