By EDUARDO GONZALES
Q—I recently read about an outbreak of an antibiotic-resistant infection that is transmitted by pet dogs in the US. Is it worth having a dog in the house despite the health risk this entails? Celizabeth_quisse@gmail.com
A—The outbreak you read about is caused by a strain of the Campylobacter jejuni bacteria that reside in the intestines of infected dogs and shed with the dogs’ feces. It is transmitted to a human by direct contact or by intake of contaminated food or water. Humans can contract the disease if they do not practice proper hygiene after coming into contact with an infected animal. In the current outbreak in the US, the sources of the infection are puppies bought from pet stores. So far 30 people from 13 states have been infected—four been hospitalized but no deaths have been reported. The symptoms of the infection include diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever that usually last for about a week. Although resistant to many antibiotics, the infection is not a dreadful one, people generally recover without antibiotics.
Other diseases that people can get from their pet dogs
Aside from campylobacter, the more common infections transmitted by dogs to humans are rabies, giardia, certain skin diseases, and some parasites.
Rabies is the most dreadful disease that dogs can transmit to humans. It is caused by a virus that resides in the saliva of infected animals and is transmitted to a human through a bite, or rarely when the animal’s saliva gets in contact with a scratch or fresh break in the skin. Rabies attacks the nervous system and is invariably fatal.
Giardia, on the other hand, is a protozoon that causes diarrhea, stomach cramps, and nausea. It is most commonly contracted by drinking infected water but may also be picked up by contact with infected animals or soil.
Skin disorders that can be acquired from pet dogs include ringworm and scabies (“galis aso” in Filipino). Ringworm is caused when humans touch infected dogs. The lesions of ringworm consist of itchy ring-shaped skin patches.
Scabies, on the other hand, is caused by mites that burrow under the skin. It is characterized by an itchy pinpoint red rash, scaly skin, and hair loss.
Parasites that plague dogs such as the roundworm Toxocaracanis can also affect humans. These worms reside in the intestine of infected dogs. When their eggs pass in the stools, they contaminate the soil. If ingested by humans, the eggs hatch in the intestines and the larvae migrate to various parts of the body. Toxocara infestation can give rise to fever, cough, skin rashes, and swollen lymph nodes (“kulani,” in Filipino). Migrating larvae can also damage vital organs including the liver and eyes.
Ectoparasites that infest pets such as fleas and ticks can likewise bite humans and give rise to itchy lesions that are prone to secondary bacterial infection.
Benefits of having a pet dog
On the whole, I think it’s worth having a dog provided you can take good care of it. The physical, mental, and emotional health benefits conferred by pets on us definitely outweigh the health risks they expose us to.
Countless scientific studies show that a pet can be good for people of all ages. A pet dog can ease loneliness, reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, enhance self-worth and self-esteem, decrease blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, promote social interaction and encourage exercise and outdoor activities. Pet owners are generally healthier than non-owners. They make fewer trips to doctors, and when they become ill, they develop fewer complications and recover faster.
Of all age-groups, children have the most to gain from owning a pet. For kids, the pet represents a source of security that eases subconscious fears and worries.
How to prevent infections from dogs
Here are measures that can prevent you from contracting an infection from your pet dog:
- Keep your dog healthy. Feed him or her a healthy diet and clean drinking water. Bath and groom your pet regularly. Have him or her completely and regularly immunized (especially for rabies), dewormed, and flea-controlled. If you do not intend to breed your dog, have him or her neutered or spayed.
- Keep you and your dog’s house clean.
- Avoid kissing your pet or letting it lick your face.
- Avoid contact with your dog’s feces, use disposable gloves or plastic bags to pick up and dispose of your pet’s stool.
- Observe good personal hygiene. Wash your hands regularly, especially before eating and after handling your dog or his or her toys.
(Note: Email inquiries on health matters to email@example.com)