Getting sick is part of our everyday lives, but in most cases, individuals think about colds, flu, and other illnesses passed from one human to another. There is another category of illnesses that impact humans known as zoonotic diseases (zoonoses) that are passed from animals to humans. Working or volunteering at an animal shelter increases the chance of contracting one of these illnesses. To best protect yourself, your volunteer team, and visitors to the animal shelter, it is essential that you understand zoonotic diseases as well as educate volunteers.
How Zoonotic Diseases Spread
According to the Water Quality & Health Council, 60% of infectious diseases are spread by animals to humans. Zoonotic diseases can be spread through bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites depending on the disease. The most common ways these diseases find their way to humans include:
- Animal bites or scratches that break the skin.
- Insect bites from mosquitoes, ticks, or fleas.
- Coming in direct contact with animal fluids including urine, feces, and saliva.
- Consuming water or food that was contaminated by the animal.
- Coming in contact with something that was contaminated by the animal.
- Skin to skin contact with the animal.
- Inhaling germs or particles in the air.
Types of Zoonotic Diseases
There are currently 150 known zoonotic diseases with some being more prevalent than others. Take a look at these common types that your animal shelter should be conscious of:
- Plague: The plague is a bacteria that is spread by small animals including rodents and cats. The bubonic plague is spread by fleas and contracted by humans when bit.
- Leptospirosis: This is a bacterial infection spread by dogs in their urine.
- Cat Scratch Disease: The cat scratch disease is a bacteria spread by felines when they bite or scratch breaking open skin. In some cases, fleas have also been known to spread the bacteria.
- Lyme Disease: Lyme disease is a popular zoonotic disease that is spread by infected ticks attaching themselves to animals or humans.
- Tick Paralysis: Some ticks produce a neurotoxin that when transmitted to humans or animals can cause paralysis starting in the legs before spreading to other limbs.
- Rabies: Another well-known disease that can be deadly to humans which is why many areas require rabies vaccines for animals to prevent the spread.
- Toxoplasmosis: This disease is spread through cat feces and urine. It is especially harmful to unborn babies and linked to birth defects.
Preventing the Spread of Zoonotic Diseases
In an animal shelter setting, there are steps your volunteers can take to minimize the spread of zoonotic diseases including:
- Wear gloves when cleaning litter boxes or removing feces from the yard.
- Thoroughly wash hands after all contact with animals.
- Use insect repellent before spending time outdoors with the animals.
- Wear long sleeves and pants while volunteering to minimize scratches.
- Make sure all animals are seen by a vet upon intake.
If you haven’t trained your volunteer team on zoonotic diseases recently, now is a great time to schedule a training session.