Duh files: Doctors don’t always ask about pet-related health risks

According to NPR, if you’re being treated for cancer, an iguana might not be the pet for you.

goat.petting.zooDitto if you’re pregnant, elderly or have small children at home.

Pets can transmit dozens of diseases to humans, but doctors aren’t always as good as they should be in asking about pets in the home and humans’ health issues, a study finds.

And that goes for people doctors and animal doctors. “The fact that they’re equally uneducated is concerning,” says Jason Stull, an assistant professor of veterinary preventive medicine at Ohio State University and lead author of the review, which was published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. “There hasn’t been a great dialogue between the veterinary community, the human health community and the public.”

Amphibians, reptiles, rodents and young poultry can spread Salmonella. Back in 2013 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of an outbreak of a rare strain of Salmonella among people who had pet hedgehogs, and suggested that people lay off cuddling the adorable creatures.

Parasites like giardia and Cryptosporidium cause diarrheal disease and can be spread by dogs and cats. Those are nasty but treatable. Rarer parasites like Echinococcus tapeworms can cause liver failure and death.

People should be sure to let their human health-care providers know that they have pets, Stull says, and let the vet know if there are family members who are at greater risk of animal-borne infections. That includes children under age 5, pregnant women, older people, and anyone with a weakened immune system due to things like chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS or organ transplants.

If you’re intrigued by the notion of Fluffy as disease vector, you’ve got friends at (decent hockey player Scott Weese’) Worms and Germs  blog from the University of Guelph. They’re closely following the new outbreak of canine flu, for example.

At The Ohio State University and partner institutions, researchers have compiled the latest information from more than 500 studies worldwide to make recommendations on how families can minimize the risk of disease transmission by choosing the right type of pet, or by making small changes in how they enjoy the pets they already have.

The review was published in the April 20 issue of CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).