Anurag Kalra got rashes on his hands that persisted for a few days. He didn’t think much of it initially. When even after applying thick coats of lacto calamine lotion didn’t help, and the rashes had reached his arms as well, Kalra approached a skin specialist and was told he had contracted Lyme disease. It took three weeks of medication to be fully cured of the disease, and now a wiser Kalra says, “I will never allow Bruno (the name of his pomeranian) on my bed again.”
Lyme disease, a common vector-borne disease caused by a bacteria, is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks, which are carriers of parasites that cause blood infection. According to veterinarians, one in four dogs in India is prone to this infection.But Lyme disease is not the only zoonotic disease (one that spreads from animals to humans), there are rabies, scabies, influenza, plague, anthrax, leptospirosis etc... the list is long. In fact, all existing evidence suggests that even Covid-19 is a zoonotic disease.
Zoonotic diseases spread when humans come in contact with infected animals who are either pets or become food for non-vegetarians. And, since these denominators exist for a large number of people, the risk of getting zoonotic diseases is huge. “Pets are like family, no doubt. But it’s important to keep them as well as yourself healthy and free from parasites and other infections. We can diagnose a disease and treat it, but it’s up to pet owners to practice protocols that reduce transmission of zoonotic pathogens,” says Dr Suman Mishra.
While okay to love your pets, cuddle and treat them like family, allowing them to lick your hands and face is what you should avoid, as well as letting them sleep with you on your bed. Pets can carry germs, which gets transmitted on to you, leading to skin rashes, infections or sometimes serious diseases like rabies (it means a certain death) or anthrax (a deadly disease as the bacterial spores can remain alive for as long as 20 years).
“A routine veterinary visit is a must for all pets as it will mean you are less likely to get sick from touching or interacting with it,” says Dr Ajmer Kuhar, adding that pinworm infection is the most common zoonotic disease in kids, followed by scabies and rabies.
Another disease transmitted from animals to humans is brucellosis, which causes infertility in humans. “The last trimester abortion in an animal is a major sign of brucellosis. It is a very common disease in North India, especially in cattle. An infected human will show signs as knee pain and persistent mild fever. But it mostly goes undiagnosed, and hence untreated. As of now, there is only one lab in Bikaner that diagnoses brucellosis,” says Dr Kuhar, citing consumption of raw animal milk as one of the causes.