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N. Schoemaker1
1Utrecht University, Division of Zoological Medicine, Utrecht, Netherlands Antilles
Nico Schoemaker, DVM, PhD, Dip ECZM (Small mammal & Avian), Dipl. ABVP-Avian
Division of Zoological Medicine, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University
Nearly two-thirds of human diseases can be transmitted to animals. As veterinarians, however, we tend to use the term zoonosis when infections are transmitted from animals to humans. An estimated 75% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, mainly of viral origin, and likely to be vector-borne. Bacterial gastro-enteritis and dermatophytosis are considered to be the most common zoonoses in companion mammals. Many other zoonotic diseases are diagnosed sporadically, but may have a detrimental outcome for the person who
is infected. Besides knowledge of potential zoonotic diseases, it is important to know which measures should be taken to prevent infection. A selection of potential zoonotic agents, which have been found in pet companion mammals, is given below.
Salmonella spp.
Not more than 5% of all cases of salmonellosis in humans are associated with exposure to exotic pets.
A large portion of these cases are linked to exposure
to reptiles, and, to a lesser extent, sugar gliders and hedgehogs. The most common symptoms in humans are headache, malaise, nausea, fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Symptoms usually occur within 12 to 24 hours after infection. Although most infections may
be treated adequately, mortality in immunocompromised individuals has been described.
In the hedgehog Salmonella tilene and S. typhimurium are the most common pathogens associated with disease in humans. In East Anglia, however, the potential zoonotic S. enteritidis (PT11) has also been isolated
from hedgehogs. Human health officials are concerned about the prophylactic use of antibiotics in exotic pets by breeders and wholesalers, as this may lead to antibiotic- resistant Salmonella strains. The use of prophylactic antibiotic treatments should therefore be discouraged. In case of clinical disease, it is important to administer the correct dose of antibiotics with an appropriate duration
and following the correct route of administration to avoid suboptimal therapy.
Streptobacillus moniliformis (Rat bite fever)
Streptobacillus moniliformis, the causative agent for
rat bite fever, can either be spread through rat bites or through water and / or (unpasteurized) milk contaminated by rats. Although up to 50% of rats have been reported to carry the bacterium in the nasopharynx or excrete
it via the urine, infections occur only sporadically. The incubation period is 1 to 10 days in humans. Besides
a fever, most human patients show an erythematous rash and arthritis of multiple joints. In severe cases endocarditis may occur. The bacterium can be treated with macrolides and tetracyclines.
Francisella tularensis (Tularemia)
In Europe, rabbits, water rats, and other rodents may carry the bacterium Francisella tularensis. Transmission occurs usually through tick bites (or other biting insects) [type 2], but may also be associated with hunting (contact) [type 1] or consumption of infected material [type 3]. Airborne infections [type 4] may occur through inhalation of contaminated dust of infected hay. The latter route seems to be the most likely when dealing with privately kept species.
The infection causes ulceroglandular, plaque-like
lesions. The incubation period is 2 to 6 days. If left untreated lesions may persist for months. Treatment with aminoglycosides is recommended for a period up to 14 days. For endemic areas vaccination may be considered.
Although the infection seems to be most commonly associated with wildlife, a 24-year-old man seroconverted during an outbreak of Tularemia in prairie dogs (caused by Francisella tularensis holartica [type B], the less virulent strain); this man only showed atypical signs of the disease.
PARASITIC DISEASES Baylisascaris procyonis
Baylisascarus procyonis is a roundworm that is commonly found in raccoons (up to 70% and 90% in adults and juveniles, respectively). These animals are increasingly kept as exotic pets. Raccoons can shed enormous amounts of eggs. When these eggs are consumed by an animal, other than a raccoon, the larvae will migrate through tissues and may eventually invade the eyes and brain (5 – 7 % of cases). The latter may lead to severe disease and even death. Currently, there is no effective treatment available for the larval stage of B. procyonis.
An Urban Experience

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