Dear Pharmacist: I read your article on Bartonella, and how pets can indirectly give it to you. What other diseases do pets transmit? Are there antibiotics? --S.J., Orlando, Fla.
Great question since pet lovers don’t connect their illness to pets, but “zoonotic” infections are certainly possible. And yes, there are antimicrobials but the exact kind is based upon your illness. This will freak some of you out:
Cat Scratch Fever: Don’t play rough with kitty or let him lick your wounds because about 40 percent of cats are a natural reservoir of Bartonella henselae, an organism that’s also transmitted by ticks. Growing up, my rather savage cat named “Sugar” attacked me all the time. I was lucky. If you’re not, cat scratch disease causes swollen lymph nodes, headaches, fatigue, low appetite and/or fever. It’s almost impossible to eradicate and can cause lifelong problems: Anxiety, panic attacks, seizure disorder, encephalopathy, memory problems, fog, chronic fatigue, joint pain, rheumatoid-like pain and foot pain. I’ve archived an article about this on my website.
Hookworms: This intestinal parasite has mouth “hooks” and latches on to your gut. Puppies and kittens may have it until they’re dewormed, but that’s not 100 percent insurance so be careful changing the litter box, or picking up dog poop, or letting your child play in sandboxes. Hookworms are passed by the fecal-oral route and can cause skin rashes, intestinal bleeding and abdominal pain. Toxoplasma gondii, another cat and dog-transmitted parasite is associated with schizophrenia.
Lyme disease: It’s not a zoonotic disease but it’s epidemic, so it gets honorable mention. Borrelia burgdorferi causes Lyme and it travels with other pathogens like Bartonella, Babesia or Rickettsia. Pets carry ticks which jump on you and bite (you will never feel it, and rarely see it). Hundreds of symptoms can occur, causing you to get misdiagnosed with any one of 300 disorders, mainly autoimmune or fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue.
Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus (LCMV): If you love your guinea pig, hamster or mouse watch out, this virus is transmitted from rodent urine, droppings or saliva. No bite is necessary, LCMV can be transmitted into your mouth, nose, eyes or broken skin. When I was 18, I had a pet hamster named Tootsie (a leftover from my science project). He was cute and fuzzy so I know these critters are hard to resist. Still, don’t kiss them, and use gloves when cleaning their cage.
Salmonellosis: Salmonella is associated with contaminated food but your pet dog, cat, horse, turtle, snake, gecko or farm animal can pass salmonella into their feces. Touch it and you could get it. Great time to remind parents to keep an eye on your kids at the petting zoo! Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. If it gets into the blood stream it’s bad news.
Parrot Fever: Caused by an organism called Chlamydophila psittacine, this can cause diarrhea, low appetite, weight loss, weakness, difficulty breathing, and eye infections. It’s dangerous and in some cases fatal.