Joseph A. Bocchini Jr.
NEW YORK — Asking pediatric patients about animal exposures both in and outside of the home can be an important part of ensuring the prevention of zoonotic infections, according to a presentation at the Infectious Diseases in Children annual symposium. Understanding what animals are present in the child’s life can allow pediatricians to provide anticipatory guidance and share infection prevention methods.
“Pets have the ability to increase fitness, lower stress and bring happiness and to teach responsibility, respect, compassion, empathy and life lessons to children,” Joseph A. Bocchini Jr., MD, FAAP, professor and chairman in the department of pediatrics at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center – Shreveport, said in his presentation. “Animals do provide a lot of good benefits to children, but there is a risk for exposure [to diseases].”
According to the American Pet Products Association’s 2017-2018 National Pet Owner’s Survey, 68% households in the United States had at least one pet, and more than 50% had more than one pet.
According to Bocchini, around 60% of all human pathogens are zoonotic in nature, and physicians are “faced with a variety of zoonoses on a regular basis.” Additionally, approximately 75% of all emerging or re-emerging diseases in the past 25 years — including Ebola, Zika and yellow fever — are zoonotic.
Pediatricians should ask patients and their families about exposures to animals, including traditional and nontraditional pets, during visits, Joseph A. Bocchini Jr., MD, FAAP, suggests in a presentation at the Infectious Diseases in Children annual symposium. This can allow physicians to provide anticipatory guidance on the handling of these animals and prevent zoonotic infections.
Infections such as salmonellosis, leptospirosis, rabies and toxoplasmosis, can be transmitted by dogs, cats and other traditional household pets. However, an increasing number of Americans are adopting exotic or nontraditional pets that may transmit diseases not commonly encountered in a pediatric care setting. Bocchini said exotic animals are classified as imported or domestically bred non-native species. Nontraditional pets can include exotic animals, indigenous wildlife, reptiles, amphibians, arachnids and other species of mammals, including hedgehogs and sugar gliders, which is a type of marsupial.
Because these animals may have been held in cramped locations and their behavior is not always predictable, transmission can occur through bites, scratches and other behaviors. Therefore, Bocchini suggested that nontraditional pets should be discouraged in households with young children.
Exposure to animals outside of the household is also important for pediatricians to consider. In survey results published in BMC Public Health, 37% of people with no pets in the household were exposed to animals at least weekly. These exposures, many of which took place in petting zoos, caused infection with Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium and orf virus. Over 100 outbreaks related to animal exposures occurred between 2010 and 2015.
Bocchini encouraged pediatricians to share with parents guidance from the AAP, CDC and American Veterinary Medicine Association related to the handling of animals and the prevention of zoonotic infections.
“It is very clear that the same organisms that affect and are a danger to animals are also a danger to humans,” he said. “As a result, we all need to be working together to try to control these illnesses.” – by Katherine Bortz
Bocchini JA. Zoonoses: Children and all creatures great and small. Presented at: Infectious Diseases in Children Symposium; Nov. 17-18, 2018; New York.
Stull JW, et al. BMC Public Health. 2012;doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-553.
Disclosure: Bocchini reports no relevant financial disclosures.