• December 8, 2023

Can a Pet Bird Make You Sick

A recent outbreak of avian flu in South Korea has killed at least 34 humans and infected another 362, according to government figures released Friday morning. The country’s health minister said that cases are still suspected in three more provinces. 

The H7N9 strain appears to be highly contagious among poultry but rarely spreads to humans only one percent of people who contract it die from it, according to Chinese research cited by the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC). But there have been several instances where human infections have spread to nearby dogs and cats, which can transmit germs like viruses through contact. 

This latest incident raises questions about whether pets should be vaccinated against certain illnesses. In this case, the vaccination may not provide much protection as it was designed originally for use in China, where the H7N9 strain originated. The vaccine also doesn't protect against all strains of the disease. 

"It’s a question we need to consider," said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, during a press conference Thursday. "We don’t know what the outcome will be."

In the U.S., veterinarians tend to be more cautious when recommending vaccinations for their patients, especially when they're dealing with infectious diseases such as rabies. Some vets are concerned that vaccines could cause side effects or complications. Others are wary of the long-term safety of some products. Vaccines for animals aren't approved for use in children younger than 3 years old. 

But many experts say that pets should receive routine vaccinations for preventative care. They point out that most outbreaks of animal diseases occur because of close contact between animals and people rather than directly from an animal itself. That means that even though the infection might originate in an animal, it can easily jump to us via our pets. 

So far, no evidence exists that vaccinations pose any kind of serious risk to pets. And they do help keep them healthy, particularly those living in areas where specific diseases exist. 

Dr. Mark Lachman, professor emeritus of clinical medicine at Cornell University, says he regularly uses vaccines in his practice, including ones for heartworm, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and others. He believes it's important to vaccinate pets, even against diseases that haven't yet become widespread problems in the area.  "I would never let my dog get rabies shots unless I knew there were rabid raccoons around," said Lachman. 

Many of these vaccines for pets are given as yearly shots, while others require annual boosters. Pets will often show signs of illness after receiving the shot, so owners should watch closely for changes in behavior, appetite, and general well-being. Dogs sometimes exhibit mild discomfort after getting a vaccine, but that usually passes within 24 hours. Cats, however, may experience more pain. 

Vaccinations won't necessarily stop transmission of an illness altogether, but they can reduce the likelihood of getting sick. Studies have found that vaccinations can lower the number of people infected during an outbreak of measles. People who received two doses of mumps vaccine had fewer than half of the average number of bouts of mumps compared to unvaccinated individuals. A similar pattern has been seen with hepatitis B, rabies, chicken pox, and shingles.  Experts advise taking extra precautions when handling animals, keeping kids away from animals, and washing hands thoroughly and frequently. 

Here are some tips for protecting yourself, your family, and your pets.

Vaccinate pets

Pets should always be vaccinated against common diseases such as distemper, parvo, parahaemolyticus, adeno, canine adenovirus type 1, and rabies. These vaccines generally come with a certificate of completion. If you've recently moved to a new place, check with your veterinarian about whether your pet needs additional vaccinations. 

Most states allow exemptions for pets kept solely for breeding purposes, service dogs, working animals, and companion animals that live indoors. Check with your local department of agriculture to learn about any laws regarding required vaccinations.  Don't try to treat pets differently than you'd treat yourself. You shouldn't skip giving them medication just because you wouldn't take it yourself. 

Avoid close contact with other animals and people 

You should avoid close contact with other animals and people whenever possible. This includes avoiding public parks or beaches with lots of wildlife. Wash your hands thoroughly, often, and properly before touching your face, mouth, nose, eyes, or genitals. Don't touch someone who looks ill or displays symptoms of an illness. Treat everyone as potentially carrying bacteria or viruses. Get plenty of sleep. Keep stress levels low. Drink water throughout the day.

Wash hands thoroughly

Most people wash their hands multiple times per day, but how often do they really clean their hands? It depends on what sort of surface they touched first. When making breakfast, prepare food on plates or pans instead of platters. Avoid using utensils or towels that have been used previously by anyone else. After changing diapers, change into fresh clothes. Clean off tables and counters after meals. Use paper towel or toilet tissue to pick up trash, pet waste, and anything dirty. 

Clean up poop and pee

Your pet probably loves to relieve himself outside, but he's likely to track feces and urine droppings onto surfaces shared with others. So clean them up right away. There's a good chance that the germs and bacteria left behind can infect other objects, plants, and people. 

Poop can carry harmful amoebas and parasites that can sicken or kill small fish, tadpoles, and snails. Pee contains E.coli and salmonella that can make people sick. Both types of fecal matter also contain worms that can burrow into the skin and cause painful lacerations. 

To remove poop, wipe down surfaces with disinfectant wipes immediately. Then rinse and dry them. Cover fecal matter with a thick layer of dirt or sand to slow bacterial growth. Dispose of the feces in the proper receptacles. Never flush feces along with toilets. Instead, throw them away in plastic bags and dispose of them properly.

Keep an eye on new symptoms

If you start noticing symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, nausea, diarrhea, muscle pains, or vomiting, call your doctor. Viruses can incubate inside your body for weeks without causing obvious symptoms. By then, the virus has already passed to others. Symptoms can appear suddenly, intensify quickly, and last longer than expected. Early detection helps doctors respond quickly.

Watch for signs of severe illness or death

Seek emergency treatment immediately if you notice symptoms like difficulty breathing, chest pain, swelling of the feet or lips, stiff neck, confusion, irregular heartbeat, seizures, coma, or sudden drop in blood pressure. Call 911 if you think your pet requires immediate veterinary attention. 

Signs of severe illness include rapid weight loss, lack of energy, eating very little, lethargy, excessive sweating, coughing up mucus, bloody stools, black tarry vomit, discoloration of the gums, labored breathing, and convulsions. Death can happen suddenly. 

Call 911 if necessary

Call 911 if your pet shows symptoms of severe illness or dies unexpectedly. Your veterinarian may refer you to a specialist for further testing. Many hospitals now have special COVID units equipped to handle critically ill patients during epidemics. Contact your hospital's emergency services and follow their guidance. 

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