The CDC reports that 70% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic – that is, transmitted from animals to humans.  What many people do not know is that we actually share many of these diseases with our pets.  As pet owners, we need to know what the risks are, how to prevent these diseases, and what signs to look for in case transmission occurs.  We also need to keep in mind that zoonotic transmission goes both ways – we can transmit infections to our pets, too.

Recent news documenting the transmission of TB from cat to owner in the UK shocked a number of people.  TB transmission from cat to human is an unlikely event, but it does happen.  In fact, research shows that we share many microbes with our families and our pets.  Most of these microbes are harmless and sometimes even beneficial.  But every now and then a bad germ enters the mix.

Many zoonotic diseases are pretty well known, but are considered “emerging” because of the early state of knowledge around these diseases.  This can make it hard for doctors to effectively diagnose and treat patients.  Unless they specialize in infectious disease, most doctors receive very little training in infectious disease.  Even with specialization, doctors may not know much about the latest research about a particular disease, especially diseases that progress slowly and cause mild or no symptoms.

Bartonella infection, especially Cat Scratch Disease, is a perfect example of a zoonotic infection that may start with mild or no symptoms and could progress slowly over time into something more serious.  At least that’s what the latest research says.  For a good review on Bartonella infection, see this recent review article by Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt: Koch’s postulates and the pathogenesis of comparative infectious disease causation associated with Bartonella species.

Research also suggests that cats are not the only pet to worry about.  A recent study by researchers at NCSU found that 10-20% of blood donors, healthy, and stray dogs in central North Carolina were naturally infected with Bartonella species.  This study used the Bartonella ePCR or BAPGM test methodology and collected both serological results (indicating exposure) and DNA results (indicating infection).

For details on other pet diseases you should know about, see CDC on Healthy Pets, Healthy People.

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FIND IT.  TREAT IT.  PREVENT IT.