Animals can be a very important part of our lives and pets can have many health benefits. While disease transmission between animals and people can occur, in most cases, basic infection control methods can be used to prevent disease spread. Illnesses might be spread in various ways such as by direct contact with an animal or breathing in a germ that an animal is infected with. While both people and animals can become ill from germs carried by certain vectors like mosquitoes and ticks, people cannot become infected with these diseases through contact with an animal with a vectorborne disease. For more information about vectorborne diseases visit the VDH Bugs and Human Health page.
For more information about infections that animals might transmit to people, visit the information found on the Fact Sheet, Data and Resources pages below.
B-virus is a disease caused by a virus called Cercopithecine herpesvirus 1. It is a disease of non-human primates of the genus Macaca (macaque monkeys) that can also affect people. People who handle infected macaques may be exposed to and become ill from B-virus. The virus can be found in the secretions and tissues of infected primates. Infected primates may appear healthy.
For more information visit the VDH B-virus fact sheet.
Cat scratch disease (CSD) is bacterial disease caused by Bartonella henselae. Cats are the main reservoir of this organism. Anyone bitten, scratched, licked or exposed to an infectious cat or kitten is susceptible to the disease. Any domestic cat has the potential to be a reservoir for this disease. Infectious cats usually appear healthy. Fleas and ticks that infest cats may be infected as well.
For more information visit the VDH Cat Scratch Disease fact sheet.
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a deadly disease transmitted by infected rodents through urine, droppings, or saliva. Humans can contract the disease when they breathe in the virus that is on dust and other debris floating in the air. HPS was first recognized in the southwest United States in 1993 and has since been identified throughout the United States. One case has been identified in Virginia. In 1993, a hiker on the Appalachian trail developed HPS.
For more information Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome
Lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM) is a disease caused by the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV). The virus may be found in about 5% of wild mice throughout the United States. The virus can also infect pet rodents (such as mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, etc.). LCM is very rare in humans in the United States. People who have unprotected contact with rodents or their waste/bedding (e.g., owners of pet rodents, laboratory workers who handle infected animals, etc.) are at higher risk of infection. Virus is present in the blood and tissues of infected people; therefore, organ donation recipients have been infected if the donor was carrying the virus. People who have weakened immune systems (e.g., HIV-positive persons, organ-transplant recipients, etc.) are at higher risk of severe disease if infected.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacteria that is commonly found in nasal passages and skin of humans and multiple animals. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is resistant to beta-lactam antibiotics and in some cases to other antibiotics. Although MRSA is primarily found in people, animals can also be infected. MRSA has been recovered from animals including horses, dogs, cats, cows, and pigs. Some of these animals have not been exposed to antibiotic therapy and in several of these cases the MRSA infection appears to result from human-to-animal transfer.
For more information visit the VDH page on Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) in Pets.
Mpox is a rare disease caused by the Mpox virus, which belongs to the same group of viruses as smallpox. Mpox virus was first found in laboratory monkeys in 1958. It has also been found in different kinds of African rodents. The first human cases of Mpox in the United States occurred in the mid-west in 2003. Before 2003, the only human cases of Mpox occurred in central and West Africa.
For more information visit the VDH Mpox fact sheet.
Plague is a disease caused by Yersinia pestis that affects rodents (e.g., squirrels, prairie dogs, or mice), other mammals (e.g., rabbits or hares), and humans. These bacteria are found in many areas of the world, including the United States. There are three forms of plague: bubonic, pneumonic (lung infection) and septicemic (bloodstream infection). Plague is rare in the United States, with an average of 7 human plague cases reported each year (range: 1–17 cases per year) in recent decades. Cases in the U.S. generally occur in rural and semi-rural areas in the west and southwest. Worldwide, about 1,000 to 2,000 cases of plague are reported every year.
For more information visit the VDH Plague fact sheet.
Psittacosis is a disease that is caused by the bacteria, Chlamyda psittaci, and is often associated with psittacine (i.e., parrot type) birds kept as pets; however, this bacteria can also infect poultry and non-psittacine birds like doves and pigeons. Most human infections have been reported as having been related to exposure to pet psittacine birds, like parakeets. Human illness with psittacosis has also been documented from exposure to poultry and free-ranging birds including doves, pigeons, birds of prey and shore birds.
Q fever is a disease caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetii. The disease can occur in two forms: acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term). Q fever has been reported from most parts of the world. However, this disease is rare in the U.S., with fewer than 175 cases reported per year during 2005-2013. A total of 21 cases were reported in Virginia during 2005-2013.
Sheep, cattle and goats sometimes carry C. burnetii. It may rarely be carried by cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, rodents and ticks. The organism can survive for long periods in the environment (e.g., in dust, wool, straw, fertilizer, etc.).
For more information visit the VDH Q Fever fact sheet.
Rat-bite fever (RBF) is bacterial disease caused by Actinobacillus muris and Spririllum minus. In the United States, rat-bite fever is primarily due to infection with A. muris. Rats are the main reservoir of these organisms. People exposed to infectious rat secretions may become ill. Direct contact with a rat is not necessary. RBF is rare in the United States, however, since it is not a notifiable disease, exact numbers of cases are not known.
For more information visit the VDH Rat-bite Fever fact sheet.
Ringworm is a contagious fungus infection that can affect the scalp, the body (particularly the groin), the feet, and the nails. Despite its name, it has nothing to do with worms. The name comes from the characteristic red ring that can appear on an infected person's skin. Ringworm is also called “dermatophytosis” and “tinea”. Ringworm is a common skin disorder, especially among children, but it may affect people of all ages, as well as animals. Anyone who is exposed to an infected person, animal, or spores within the environment is at risk of becoming infected.
For more information visit the VDH Ringworm fact sheet.
The flu in people is caused by infection with an influenza virus. There are different types of influenza virus. Influenza A and Influenza B viruses can infect people. Some influenza A viruses can infect both people and animals and are called zoonotic influenza viruses.
While influenza A viruses can infect a wide range of animals, pigs (swine flu) and birds (avian flu) are the species where we see the greatest transmission of viruses between people and animals. Sometimes, the virus can be transmitted from people to animals and sometimes it can be transmitted from animals to people. Signs of human illness from swine flu and avian flu are very similar to illness experienced with seasonal flu. Animals infected with flu viruses might show no signs of illness or can experience a wide range of clinical signs ranging from mild illness to death.
It is important to keep humans and animals safe from flu viruses. Steps you can take include:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after interacting with animals.
- Avoid contact with animals if you are sick.
- Seek care from your veterinarian if your animal is sick.
- Protect pet birds. Bird owners should review their biosecurity steps and stay aware to protect poultry and pet birds from avian flu. Get more information from the USDA’s Defend the Flock Program.
- Limit contact with sick or dead animals. People who have contact with sick or dead animals, particularly birds or pigs, should take precautions to limit direct contact with those animals. Wear appropriate clothing and personal protective equipment (this might include eye protection, a well-fitting mask, gloves, and protective outer clothing such as gown or coveralls) to limit direct contact. Wash your hands after handling the animals and removing personal protective equipment.
- Monitor your health if you may have been exposed. People who have contact with animals that might be infected with an influenza virus should monitor their health for 10 days after their last exposure to that animal. If you become sick during those 10 days, contact your local health department to see if you should be tested for flu.
For more information about zoonotic influenza:
- Healthy Pets, Healthy People
- Compendium of Measures to Prevent Disease Associated with Animals in Public Settings
- Compendium of Measure to Control Chlamydia psittaci Infection Among Humans (Psittacosis) and Pet Birds (Avian Chlamydiosis)
- Compendium of Veterinary Standard Precautions for Zoonotic Disease Prevention in Veterinary Personnel
- Diseases of nonhuman primates
- Brucella canis Infections in Humans
- Q Fever: Coordinated Public Health and Animal Health Response
Healthy Pets, Health People Materials Available While Supplies Last
Choosing the right pet and staying safe while caring for and feeding pets helps to keep both pets and people healthy. The CDC's Healthy Pets, Healthy People website (see link below) is a great resource for information about staying healthy around animals. The Virginia Food Protection Task Force now has laminated hard copies of materials from the CDC's Healthy Pets, Healthy People site available for veterinarians, local extension agents and pet food suppliers for both display and distribution to clients and customers. Support for this offer comes from a cooperative agreement awarded to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Food Safety Program by the Food and Drug Administration. Materials available cover topic areas such as backyard flocks and Salmonella, safety around reptiles, pet food safety and general tips for staying healthy around pets.
These materials are available only while supplies last. Those interested in materials or further information should contact Christy Brennan, Virginia Rapid Response Team Coordinator, at 804-786-1585 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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