Fact Sheet: Preventing Illness Associated with Animal Contact
How to Stay Healthy around Household Pets, Petting Zoos and Fairs
Minnesota Department of Health
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All animals can carry germs and pass infections to people. Infections with intestinal bacteria and parasites pose the highest risk for human disease.
- calves, lambs, and goat kids
- chicks and ducklings
- reptiles and amphibians
- any ill animal
Note: animals infected with disease agents frequently show no signs of illness.
The most commonly reported intestinal disease agents associated with animal contact include E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, Cryptosporidium, and Campylobacter. All can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever. E. coli O157:H7 is of special concern because some infected children develop a severe complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS includes kidney failure and a severe decrease in certain blood cells. Extended hospital stays with kidney dialysis and transfusions are typically required, and 5-10% of HUS cases are fatal.
The primary mode of transmission is from feces of an animal to the mouth of the person by hand to mouth contact. Because animal fur, skin, and saliva can become contaminated with fecal germs, people can become infected when they pet, touch, or are licked by animals. Persons can also be exposed through contact with an animal’s living area, its bedding, fence rails or objects such as food and water dishes.
- children under 5 years of age;
- persons with waning immunity
(e.g., older adults);
- pregnant women;
- cognitively impaired persons;
- and, immunocompromised persons
(e.g., those with HIV/AIDS, who are undergoing cancer treatment, immunosuppressive steroid therapy, etc.)
- Golden Rule: Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact with any animal, animal product, or animal living area
- Supervise children under 5 years of age when with animals
- Don’t eat, drink, smoke, or allow children to carry toys or use pacifiers, sippy cups, or baby bottles in animal areas
- Don’t clean animal cages, food dishes, or water dishes in food preparation areas
- People in high risk groups should avoid contact with baby chicks, ducklings, reptiles, amphibians, calves, lambs, or goat kids. These animals are not recommended as pets in households with a person in a high risk group.
- CDC Healthy Pets Healthy People: Browse by Disease
The Center for Disease Prevention and Control's website for additional information on these and many other diseases that are associated with animals. Attention: Non-MDH link
- Compendium of Measures To Prevent Disease Associated with Animals in Public Settings, 2011
Comprehensive information about preventing animal contact illness. CDC; National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, Inc. (NASPHV) Attention: Non-MDH link