Pox From Your Pets

By Elizabeth SvobodaSep 1, 2003 12:00 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

The recent minor outbreak of monkeypox, spread by pet prairie dogs, seemed more comical than scary: How many people keep a prairie dog at home? But ordinary pets—including dogs, cats, reptiles, and birds—carry many potentially serious diseases that rarely make headlines. Harold Oster, an infectious-diseases specialist at the University of California at San Diego, warns that children, the elderly, and those with weak immune systems are especially susceptible. Fortunately, regular hand washing dramatically reduces your chances of picking up germs from your nonhuman companion. Among the leading pet-borne illnesses:

Salmonellosis: Lizards, snakes, turtles, and frogs can pass the Salmonella bacterium on to their owners. The resulting intestinal disease is especially dangerous to people infected with HIV.

Toxoplasmosis: Sometimes transmitted through soiled kitty litter, this parasitic disease can cause flulike symptoms, but in most people the immune system keeps it in check. Pregnant women should be especially careful because the parasite can infect the fetus and cause brain damage or blindness.

Ringworm: Dogs and cats can pass this fungus on to people; it can also spread from person to person. Ringworm is more annoying than dangerous, causing itchy, crusty scabs on the body or on the scalp in humans.

Cat scratch disease: Kids who play rough with their cats often come down with this bacterial illness, characterized by swollen lymph nodes, fever, and fatigue.

Psittacosis: A bacterium found in the droppings of pet birds—particularly parrots, parakeets, macaws, and cockatiels—causes this difficult-to-diagnose systemic infection, which is often accompanied by pneumonia.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Magazine Examples
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2021 Kalmbach Media Co.