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Study: Sick Pets Rarely Infect Humans

FILE - Owners raise their pets for a blessing from the Roman Catholic church to celebrate World Animal Day in Manila.

A new study documents the health dangers posed by the animals we keep as pets. Most people will not catch anything from their dogs or birds, but researchers have found that certain groups of people are at higher risk.

Like people, our companion animals sometimes get sick, and fortunately, most animal diseases can not be transmitted to humans, but some infections can - like e. coli and salmonella. Certain people are more susceptible, starting with young children.

“So, kids typically under the age of five,” said veterinarian Jason W. Stull.

Also, “individuals who are elderly, typically over the age of 65. Women that are pregnant. And those that are immunocompromised in some way, so their immune system is not working the way that it is typically supposed to,” Stull said.

Cancer patients may have lower immunity, but so may people experiencing malnutrition, or even stress, he continued.

The Ohio State University vet has reviewed hundreds of published research articles on the subject. He said whether the animal is a dog, cat, bird, goat or chicken, there are precautions that can help prevent the spread of infection.

Since viruses and bacteria are often present in feces, urine, and saliva, it is important to avoid contact with those, especially for people in a higher-risk group.

“Trying to make sure the kids do not have contact with the feces from some of these animals or the terrarium or wherever else it may be kept. Individuals that do have contact with those areas, it is really important that they wash their hands with soap and water when they are finished,” Stull said.

Relatively few humans get sick from their pets, though Stull conceded it is hard to say how many. Many infections that might be transmitted by animals might also be picked up at school or work from an infected person.

But he reminds us that pets have well-documented health benefits for their human companions, such as exercising when taking your dog for a walk or simply relaxing as you watch your fish swim in their aquarium.

Jason Stull wrote about infections transmitted from pets to people in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.