Animal Contact & Human Health

Welcome to Animal Contact & Human Health

Animals can be a very important part of people’s lives and pets can have many health benefits.  Zoonoses are diseases that can infect both people and animals.  While disease transmission between animals and people can occur, in most cases, basic infection control methods can be used to prevent disease spread.  There are numerous zoonoses, many of which can also be transmitted from person-to-person or through food or water.  The zoonoses listed here represent only some of the zoonotic diseases of public health importance.

Animal Bite

While thousands of animal bites are reported to local health departments and animal control offices in Virginia  each year, many of these are preventable.  The most common bites reported are from dogs and cats, but people are sometimes bitten by wild animals.  Children can be particularly vulnerable to animal bites.  Not only do bites cause pain and injury, but they can also spread infection.  Preventing bites means being aware of the risks and learning how to enjoy being around animals without getting bitten.  More information about how to prevent bites is available below.

Bite Prevention Tips for Adults and Children:

  • Never pet, handle, approach, or feed wild animals.
  • Educate yourself and your children on if, and how, to approach a dog or animal.
  • Never approach an unfamiliar dog without asking the owner.
    • If you do have permission to approach:
      • Let the dog sniff your hand first before petting it.
      • Approach politely and quietly with a relaxed demeanor.
  • Animals communicate with their body language- PAY ATTENTION.
    • Body language indications that a dog may be likely to bite (from HSUS):
      • Tensed body
      • Stiff tail
      • Drawn back head and/or ears
      • Furrowed brow
      • Yawning
      • Flicking tongue
      • Intense stare
      • Backing away
      • Eyes rolled so whites are visible
    • If you recognize these signs or feel uncomfortable, do not run away and/or scream. Try to put something (purse, backpack, jacket, etc.) between yourself and the dog.
    • If you do become knocked over, roll into a ball and cover your ears and neck with your hand. Remain motionless.
  • Do not approach a dog while they may feel threatened, protective, or territorial (sleeping, chained, eating, playing with a toy, caring for puppies, injured etc.).

If you or your child has been bitten:

  • Immediately wash your wound with soap and water and seek proper medical attention.
  • Anyone who is bitten by an animal is at risk of getting rabies, therefore contact your local animal control, local health department, or police to report the incident.

How to be a Responsible Pet Owner:

  • Spay or neuter your pet as unneutered pets are at an increased risk of biting people.
  • Adhere to rabies vaccination guidelines to protect yourself and your pet from rabies.
  • Take your pet to routine check-ups at their veterinarian to keep them healthy and well.
  • Confine your pet to a defined area such as a fenced yard when it is outside.
  • Avoid leaving your pet chained for long periods of time as this could increase likelihood of aggressive behavior.
  • Avoid situations that may cause your pet to feel threatened or teased.
  • Properly train your pet to obey commands such as “sit”, “stay”, and “come.” Safely socialize your pet to other animals and people of different ages.

Intestinal Illness

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. Some germs that people may be exposed to by contact with animals can cause intestinal illness. Intestinal illnesses often produce symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and fever and are typically spread by having oral contact with even a small amount of feces. That is why routine handwashing, at the very least before you eat, after you go to the bathroom and any time your hands are visibly dirty, is a critical part of helping to decrease the likelihood that you will become sick with an intestinal illness.

For more information about germs causing intestinal illness that you may be exposed to by direct contact with animals, please visit the information found on the Fact Sheet, Data and Resources  pages below.


Campylobacteriosis is an infection caused by bacteria called Campylobacter. It affects the intestinal tract (gut) and causes diarrhea. Anyone can get campylobacteriosis, although babies and children are more likely to have serious illness. Campylobacter is one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in the United States. The bacteria are commonly found in the gut of animals and birds, which carry the bacteria without becoming ill. The bacteria can infect people who drink unpasteurized (raw) milk or contaminated water, or eat undercooked meats and organs, especially chicken. Just one drop of raw chicken juice can contain more than 500 bacteria, enough to cause illness. Other food items can be contaminated, for example, from improperly cleaned cutting boards. Handling infected animals, without carefully washing hands afterwards, may also lead to illness.

For more information Campylobacteriosis


Cryptosporidiosis (also referred to as “Crypto”) is a diarrheal disease caused by a microscopic, single-celled parasite called Cryptosporidium parvum. Anyone can get cryptosporidiosis, but it may be more common in persons under two years of age, those who travel, work with animals, or are in close personal contact with infected individuals. People with weakened immune systems, such as people with HIV infection or receiving chemotherapy, are more susceptible to the disease. Cryptosporidium parvum has also been responsible for disease outbreaks in children and staff in daycare centers.

For more information Cryptosporidiosis

Escherichia coli (E. coli)

Escherichia coli (also called E. coli) are bacteria that normally live in the intestines of humans and animals such as cows. Most strains of the E. coli bacteria do not cause illness. However, strains that produce toxins, referred to as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), can cause serious illness. E. coli O157:H7 is the most common type of STEC, but other types exist. Anyone can get an STEC infection, but young children and older adults are more likely to have severe Illness.

For more information  E. coli


Giardiasis is an intestinal illness caused by a microscopic parasite called Giardia. It is a fairly common cause of diarrhea throughout the U.S. and the world. Anyone can get giardiasis, but it tends to occur more often in people in daycare centers, international travelers, and individuals who drink improperly treated surface water (such as hikers drinking from a stream or people swallowing water while swimming in a river or lake). The parasite has to enter the mouth to cause infection. This happens when people and animals infected with Giardia shed the parasite in their feces (stool) and the feces then contaminate surfaces, food, or water. People then can become infected by touching contaminated surfaces, getting the parasite on their hands and then putting their hands in their mouths, or by eating the contaminated food or swallowing the contaminated water.

For more information Giardiasis

Salmonellosis (Salmonella)

Salmonellosis is a disease caused by bacteria called Salmonella. It usually affects the bowels (gut) and causes an illness that lasts several days to a week. If the Salmonella bacteria spread to the blood, a more serious illness develops. Any person can get salmonellosis, but it is identified more often in infants and children. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to experience severe illness. Salmonella can contaminate raw meats, including chicken, eggs, and unpasteurized milk and cheese products. These bacteria are also found in the feces (stool) of infected persons or pets (e.g., reptiles, chicks, dogs, cats).

For more information Salmonellosis

Rabies Control

Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. It kills almost any mammal or human that gets sick from it. The rabies virus is mainly in the saliva and brain of rabid animals. It can be transmitted through a bite or by getting saliva or brain tissue in a wound or in the eye or mouth.


What You Can Do to Help Control Rabies:

  • Have your veterinarian vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, and selected  livestock. Keep the vaccinations up-to-date.
  • If your pet is attacked or bitten by a wild animal, report it to the local health or animal control authorities. Be sure your vaccinated dog, cat, or ferret receives a booster vaccination.
  • Limit the possibility of exposure by keeping your animals on your property. Don’t let pets roam free.
  • Do not leave garbage or pet food outside. It may attract wild or stray animals.
  • Do not keep wild animals as pets. Enjoy all wild animals from a distance, even if they seem friendly. A rabid animal sometimes acts tame. If you see an animal acting strangely, report it to your local animal control department and do not go near it yourself.
  • For more information, contact your local health department.

If You Have Been Bitten:

Don’t panic…but don’t ignore the bite, either. Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and lots of water. Washing thoroughly will greatly lessen the chance of infection. Give first aid as you would for any wound. If possible, capture the animal under a large box or can, or at least identify it before it runs away. Don’t try to pick the animal up. Call an animal control or law enforcement officer to come get it. It’s critically important that you notify your family doctor immediately and explain how you got the bite. Your doctor will want to know if the animal has been captured. If necessary, your doctor will give the anti-rabies treatment recommended by the United States Public Health Service. Your doctor will also treat you for other possible infections that could be caused from the bite. Report the bite to the local health department.

Rabies for Animal Healthcare Providers

These documents are meant to provide quick reference for animal healthcare providers in regard to common rabies exposure issues. More detail about rabies and rabies exposures can be found in the Virginia Guidelines for Rabies Prevention and Control. In addition, further information can be obtained from your local health department. A directory of local health departments can be found at

Rabies for Human Healthcare Providers
These documents are meant to provide quick reference for human healthcare providers in regard to common rabies exposure issues.  More detail about rabies and rabies exposures can be found in the Virginia Guidelines for Rabies Prevention and Control. In addition, further information can be obtained from your local health department. A directory of local health departments can be found at

Rabies Clinics in Virginia
Rabies vaccination clinics may be offered outside of a registered veterinary establishment if the requirements found in § 3.2-6521 of the Code of Virginia are met which includes approval by the appropriate local health department and governing body.  More about what veterinarians in Virginia should know about rabies clinics can be found in the guidance document 150-12 “Administration of rabies vaccinations, revised December 16, 2016” available on the Virginia Board of Veterinary Medicine’s Guidance Documents page at While rabies clinics held in a licensed veterinary facility do not require local government approval, veterinarians who offer low cost rabies vaccinations through their hospitals on a routine or periodic basis are encouraged to contact their local health department to share the details of this service.  Questions about rabies clinics in your community should be directed to your local health department.  A directory of local health departments is available at

Rabies Regulations and Exemptions
Virginia’s rabies regulations can be found at These regulations, in part, provide for an exemption to rabies vaccinations for dogs and cats “if a vaccination would likely endanger the animal’s life due to a previously diagnosed disease or other previously documented medical considerations as documented by a licensed veterinarian.” A guidance document has been developed to assist veterinarians with the process of rabies vaccine exemptions which discusses the language of the law associated with exemptions and examples of certain conditions for which an exemption may be appropriate. A standard application form has also been developed for this process. Veterinarians interested in applying for an exemption should discuss the process by which they can apply with their local health departments. Veterinarians are also encouraged to contact their local health departments to report exposures or if they have questions about any of the regulatory language. A directory of local health departments can be found at