Pets and Infectious Diseases in Children
How can you prevent the spread of infectious disease from your pet?
Correct care of your pet may
prevent the spread of infection or illness to household members. To prevent the spread
of disease from your pet, be careful to:
Keep your pet's vaccines
See a veterinarian regularly with your pet for health checkups.
Keep your pet's bedding and living area clean.
Feed your pet a balanced
diet. Don't give your pet raw foods or allow it to drink out of the toilet.
Clean cat litter boxes every
day. Pregnant women should not touch cat litter. It may contain infectious
diseases that cause birth defects, including toxoplasmosis.
Wash your hands thoroughly after touching animals or cleaning up animal waste. Your children should do the same.
Washing hands is especially
important after handling reptiles. These animals may harbor a bacteria called
salmonella. Salmonella can cause salmonellosis. This disease lead to diarrhea,
fever, and abdominal cramps. Most people who contract salmonella will have
symptoms that last from 4 to 7 days and will get better without treatment.
What is the relationship between wild animals and infectious diseases?
Wild animals and insects can be
carriers for some very serious diseases. These include rabies, tetanus, Lyme disease,
Rocky Mountain spotted fever, hantavirus, and the plague. Animal bites and scratches,
even when they are minor, may become infected and spread bacteria to other parts of the
body. Whether the bite is from a family pet or an animal in the wild, scratches and
bites may carry disease. Cat scratches, for example, even from a kitten, may carry "cat
scratch disease." It's a type of bacterial infection. Bites and/or scratches that break
the skin are even more likely to become infected.
What immediate care is needed for animal bites?
Wash the wound with soap and
water under pressure from a faucet. Don't scrub. It can bruise the tissue.
If the bite or scratch is
bleeding, put pressure on it with a clean bandage or towel to stop the
Dry the wound and cover it
with a sterile dressing. Don't use tape or butterfly bandages. They can trap
harmful bacteria in the wound.
Call your child's healthcare
provider for guidance in reporting the attack. Your child's healthcare provider
will decide whether more treatment, such as antibiotics, a tetanus booster, or
rabies vaccine, is needed. This call needs to be made even if it looks like a
minor injury, and even if the animal involved is your pet or a neighbor's
If possible, find the animal
that inflicted the wound. Some animals need to be captured, confined, and watched
for rabies. Don't try to capture the animal yourself. Instead, call the nearest
animal warden or animal control office in your area.
If the animal can't be found,
if the animal was a high-risk species (such as a skunk or bat), or the animal
attack was unprovoked, the victim may need a series of rabies shots.
What is rabies?
Rabies is a widespread, viral
infection of warm-blooded animals. It is caused by a virus in the Rhabdoviridae family.
It attacks the nervous system. Once symptoms develop, it is 100% fatal in animals.
In North America, rabies happens
primarily in skunks, raccoons, foxes, and bats. In some areas, these wild animals infect
domestic cats, dogs, and livestock. In the U.S., cats are more likely than dogs to be
rabid. Generally, rabies is rare in small rodents, such as beavers, chipmunks,
squirrels, rats, mice, or hamsters. Rabies is also rare in rabbits. In the mid-Atlantic
states, where rabies is increasing in raccoons, woodchucks (also known as
groundhogs) can also be rabid.
How does rabies happen?
The rabies virus is most often
passed on through the bite of a rabid animal. It travels to the central nervous system.
Once the infection is established in the brain, the virus travels down the nerves from
the brain and multiplies in different organs.
The salivary glands are most important in the spread of rabies from one animal to another. When an infected animal bites another animal, the rabies virus is transmitted through the infected animal's saliva. Scratches by claws of rabid animals are also dangerous because these animals lick their claws.
What are the symptoms of rabies?
The incubation period in humans
from the time of exposure to the start of illness can range anywhere from 5 days to more
than a year. But the average incubation period is about 2 months. Each person may have
different symptoms. Initially, there are no symptoms. When symptoms do develop, they may
Pain, numbness, and tingling around the wound site
Intense thirst, but drinking
will cause painful throat spasms
These symptoms may look like other
health conditions. Always talk with your child's healthcare provider for a