Yes, you can catch something from your animal friends. What’s important is knowing how you can avoid it.

Have you ever heard of how animals can make you sick? Some people talk about it from the point of view that you can’t get sick from what can affect an animal, because humans are a different species. Others say that bacteria and viruses are just waiting to jump into your bloodstream.

The truth is, an animal disease may be transmitted to humans. When that happens, it’s called zoonosis.

Jumping from animal to man

Many diseases stick to one species only and for that we can be thankful. However, there are also many other illnesses that jump across multiple species. These are called zoonoses, or zoonotic diseases.

These kinds of diseases can be due to bacteria, protozoans, fungi, viruses, and parasites that, while seemingly attracted to our animal family members and livestock, can also affect people, sometimes with deadly consequences.

This is the reason people who work with or keep animals as family members should know how to handle animals and related materials – to minimize exposure to zoonotic diseases, according to Agriculture Victoria’s website.

Who are most at risk?

Aside from families who have furry family members, veterinarians, farmers, and biologists are at risk for contracting zoonotic diseases. Any person who comes into contact with animal waste or work in places where wild animals live are also susceptible.

In terms of the general population, the following are prone to zoonoses:

  • Children less than 5 years old
  • Elderly individuals older than 65 years
  • People with a weakened immune system
  • People with certain health issues, such as alcoholism and diabetes

Transmission

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, zoonotic diseases can be transmitted in many ways.

  • Direct contact – This means you can get sick after touching the bodily fluid or waste of an animal. For instance, diseases from bites and scratches are considered zoonoses transmitted via direct contact.
  • Indirect contact – This mode of transmission involves coming into contact with surfaces where animals live and roam, such as aquariums, chicken coops, dishes, and even soil.
  • Vector – You may have been bitten by an insect that usually infects other animals with diseases. Ticks and fleas are good examples.
  • Food –Consuming contaminated food, such as dairy, undercooked eggs, meat, and unwashed fruits and vegetables that may have feces particles on it can make you sick from various diseases.

Keeping zoonosis at bay

These general precautions can reduce your risk of contracting animal-borne illness, as recommended by Dr. Alex Molldrem in a PetMD article.

  • Personal hygiene –As always, keeping yourself clean, and maintaining cleanliness after an extended period of exposure to animal waste or sick animals goes a long way.
  • First aid – First aid training – especially wound care – comes in handy, should you be scratched or wounded by animals or other things that may harbor zoonoses.
  • Vaccinations and medicine –Without question, you and your furry friends should have all your shots. And if there are recommendations for prevention and prophylaxis against zoonotic diseases (for example, anti-tick sprays), be ready with those as well.

Pop and horror culture zoonosis

The big screen loves big scares, which is why some zoonoses are perfect for the thrills and screams of horror movies. But did you know that one of the most horrifying animal-borne diseases may be responsible for two legendary but rival mythical monsters?

Rabies is thought to be at the center of legends involving both werewolves and vampires, with the bite of a rabid wolf or bat being the trigger, as discussed in a 2013 Discover Magazine article by Rebecca Kreston. After all, in earlier times when rabies was not seen to be at all based on science, it must have looked like some sort of demonic wolf or bat had bitten a person and turned them evil. [Interestingly, werewolves and vampires are deemed rivals. -Ed.]

The symptoms match the monsters: aversion to light, potentially hyperactive or even aggressive behavior, and possible hallucinations. It’s no stretch of the imagination to say that rabies in the past centuries may have been the factual root for werewolves and vampires.

Some people have gone as far as to say it’s possible that zombies may also be rabies victims. After all, zombies can infect humans through a bite, with some zombie versions acting like aggressive rabies sufferers who have deteriorating coherence and lucidity. Even the loss of speech and the need to bite are rabies symptoms.

So, the next time you dress up as Dracula, a zombie, or the Werewolf, do remember that you may be dressing up as a rabies victim!

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