How safe are your pets?

Keeping a pet as a companion animal can have a lot of positives, including, but not limited to social, emotional, and health benefits. The American Heart Association went so far as to declare in a report that owning a pet, specifically, a dog, is beneficial for one’s cardiac health. However, one risk that remains ignored in the discourse around having pets is the zoonotic risks posed by having pets.

Studies have shown that households where children are suffering from cancer and are immunocompromised following chemotherapy often acquire pets to keep the children company; unfortunately, in over three-fourths of these cases, the animals are considered to be of high risk variety based on the potential of infection transmission. (1) The irony of the matter is that even physicians rarely initiate the dialogue about potential zoonotic risks, even for high risk patients, as those who have been diagnosed with AIDS. (2) This apparent dichotomy is worsened by the absolute lack of communication between physicians and veterinarians when it comes to treating patients with zoonosis. Although there is enough consensus between clinical physicians and veterinanrians to point to the immediate need of establishing two-way dialogues when it comes to treating zoonoses, there is hardly any communication on this matter. (2)

The risk of owning pets and the zoonotic potential of companion animals has received scant attention even from academic scientists. This becomes specially contextual in the setting of countries like India, where there is a cultural norm of adopting stray animals without proper vaccination and check-ups. Even globally, there are very few systematic reviews looking at the risks posed by pets and companion animals.

Exact estimates of how much of zoonoses occurs through contacts with pets is poorly understood owing to a host of factors. Lack of reporting frameworks, non-reportable status of most diseases, presence of complex transmission pathways, subclinical presentations providing no clinical clue and broad spectrum treatment plans that lead to “bystander” management of zoonotic diseases are some of the factors held responsible for the overall low prevalence of pet associated infections. (3) Modeling studies have suggested that in the case of infectious diseases, social contact with animals, especially through pet owners, poses a significant risk of explosive transmission of diseases. (4)

Unfortunately, owing to the relative absence of context specific data on pet handling and risks, most guidelines are either based on expert consensus or on scanty information. There is an urgent need to understand pathways of transmission, risk profiles, and modes to interrupt the transmission cycle of infectious agents between man and his pets within a context specific framework. For example, in rural or peri-urban areas of India, where man and his animals live in a relatively less hygienic environment, with poor sanitation, and in a milieu with higher risk of infectious disease transmission, implementation of guidelines and consensus statements developed in the western countries with impeccable hygiene is inappropriate.
The RCZI, as a leading agency delivering solutions and policy formulations to combat the emerging and re-emerging threats of zoonotic infectiosn, is envisioning ways and means to fulfill the evidence gap about pets and the risks of owning them in India.

Owning a pet may prove to be an extremely joyful experience. However, choose to take the onus of owning a pet armed with information and full realization that the responsibility of the animal, and the human beings around that animal, are yours to bear.

References

1. Stull JW, Brophy J, Sargeant JM, Peregrine AS, Lawson ML, Ramphal R, et al. Knowledge, attitudes, and practices related to pet contact by immunocompromised children with cancer and immunocompetent children with diabetes. J Pediatr [Internet]. 2014 Aug [cited 2015 Oct 16];165(2):348–55.e2. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24928703

2. Hill WA, Petty GC, Erwin PC, Souza MJ. A survey of Tennessee veterinarian and physician attitudes, knowledge, and practices regarding zoonoses prevention among animal owners with HIV infection or AIDS. J Am Vet Med Assoc [Internet]. 2012 Jun 15 [cited 2015 Oct 16];240(12):1432–40. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22657926

3. Glaser CA, Angulo FJ, Rooney JA. Animal-associated opportunistic infections among persons infected with the human immunodeficiency virus. Clin Infect Dis [Internet]. 1994 Jan [cited 2015 Oct 16];18(1):14–24. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8054433

4. Kifle YW, Goeyvaerts N, Van Kerckhove K, Willem L, Faes C, Leirs H, et al. Animal Ownership and Touching Enrich the Context of Social Contacts Relevant to the Spread of Human Infectious Diseases. PLoS One [Internet]. 2015 Jan [cited 2015 Oct 16];10(7):e0133461. Available from: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=4508096&tool=pmcentrez&rendertype=abstract

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Commitment and Collaboration: Moving Forward from A/H1N1

Welcome to the RCZI blog!

We are excited by the prospect of using a new media tool to further disseminate information on zoonoses and more importantly to bring into our fold a larger group of people who can through their scientific research, practice and understanding, strengthen understanding of issues and disseminate knowledge on zoonoses prevention and control in India. This is also an attempt to enrich the content of this website.

The blog is a simple but effective effort to further our commitment to optimise a two-way communication with our partners and users. The blog provides an expeditious system for you, our stakeholders, to present ideas while engaging in robust scientific discussion with the goal of controlling and preventing zoonoses.

Those of us who are working in the vast and complex field of zoonoses are seeing how the significance of a diverse and emerging group of infections is underestimated and understudied. That the prevalence of zoonoses is higher in the developing world, where health professionals are often deprived of the rapid and free availability of related scientific information, places that much more responsibility on us.

The huge potential of the World Wide Web (www) has allowed many of us free access to specialised content as we remain updated on global developments, establish contact with experts, gain insights into how established institutions of repute think and strategically focus on targets, goals and objectives and most importantly learn from some of these exchanges as we refine our own projects and initiatives.

Recent episodes of H5N1 and A/H1N1 have shown us, especially those in the South Asian cluster that includes India, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, how ill-equipped we are to deal with disease outbreaks, especially where evidence-based research is inadequate. With fairly similar socio-economic-cultural and geographical patterns, there are commonalities that necessitate a more vibrant exchange of information and collaborative effort.

In the recent outbreaks, while our governments responded with swiftness by setting up emergency units, establishing monitoring mechanisms and launching advocacy drives to inform and reassure a panic-stricken general population (see our website on A/H1N1), we were forced to accept that there still remained visible chinks in the armour. Pandemic preparedness continues to be a grey area in the developing world, given our diversities, large population, poor rural communities and inaccessible zones. Special skill sets and innovative, affordable tools are needed to combat these.

Through the RCZI blog we hope to continuously update health professionals who deal with zoonoses in all their medical, veterinary and public health aspects. The site will be a repository of information that can be accessed by both the specialist and the non specialist and will hold potential of acquiring depth through its interactive platforms, allowing feedback, sharing of resources and cross linking to help evolve into a rich and dynamic medium.

Our focus would be to keep the site simple, jargon free and easy to navigate. And we want this blog to serve as a portal to real, open and honest scientific communication. We solicit not just your comments and feedback but also your commitment to partner us in making the site and blog interactive, informative and user-friendly. That said, this blog is moderated.