Researchers Explore Potential Risk of Zoonotic Disease from Sharing a Bed With Pets

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In a perspective piece in the February issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, Bruno B. Chomel, of the University of California, Davis, and Ben Sun, of the California Department of Public Health, caution about the potential health risks associated with allowing pets to sleep in pet owners' beds.

As Chomel and Sun explain, "In most industrialized countries, pets are becoming an integral part of households, sharing human lifestyles, bedrooms, and beds. The estimated percentage of pet owners who allow dogs and cats on their beds is 14 percent to 62 percent. However, public health risks, including increased emergence of zoonoses, may be associated with such practices... Sharing our resting hours with our pets may be a source of psychological comfort, but because pets can bring a wide range of zoonotic pathogens into our environment, sharing is also associated with risks."

The researchers note further, "Zoonotic infections acquired by sleeping with a pet are uncommon. However, severe cases of C. canimorsus infection or plague in humans have been documented. More zoonotic agents that are transmitted by kissing a pet or being licked by a pet have been identified, especially zoonotic pathogens that are commensal in the oral cavity of carnivores, such as Pasteurella spp. and C. canimorsus. Because young children are often at higher risk than adults for exposure to zoonotic pathogens, especially when animals are displayed in public settings, the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians issued specific recommendations. However, the concerns associated with sharing a bed with pets, being licked by pets, or kissing pets were not addressed in these recommendations. Similarly, although the risk for introduction of zoonotic agents by pets in hospitals or nursing homes has been evaluated and recommendations made, the recommendations do not specifically address the risk for transmission through being licked by, kissing, or even sleeping with a pet."

Chomel and Sun note further, "Our review suggests that persons, especially young children or immunocompromised persons, should be discouraged from sharing their bed with their pets or regularly kissing their pets. Any area licked by a pet, especially for children or immunocompromised persons or an open wound, should be immediately washed with soap and water. Pets should be kept free of ectoparasites (especially fleas), routinely dewormed, and regularly examined by a veterinarian. Preventive measures such as anthelmintic drug intervention for puppies within the first few weeks after birth or, even better, for bitches during the last few weeks of pregnancy, could help prevent most cases of human toxocariasis. Similarly, evaluation of patients with recurrent MRSA colonization or infection or Pasteurella spp. infection with no obvious source should prompt queries about any regular contact with pet dogs, particularly in household settings."

Reference: Chomel BB and Sun B. Perspective: Zoonoses in the Bedroom. Emerging Infectious Diseases. Vol. 17, No. 2. February 2011

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