In response to the burgeoning exotic pet trade, and subsequent increased risk to human health, the Emergent Disease Foundation, One Health Initiative, Worldwide Veterinary Service, and UNISON have collaborated in the launch of a new leaflet containing important hygiene measures concerning exotic pets. It is hoped that the leaflet, entitled Exotic pets: Reducing the of risk of human infection will be distributed via medical centres, local authorities, schools, veterinary clinics and pet shops to help raise vital awareness, and minimise illness. The leaflets are available free of charge.
The advice contained in the leaflet is taken from an independent scientific paper entitled ‘A review of captive exotic animal-linked zoonoses’ published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Environmental Health Research. A diverse range of species is now available as ‘pets’ and they carry with them an array of exotic germs. An unfortunate animal may be transported halfway round the world and straight into someone’s living room with the family having no idea of the risks it may pose. Many of these germs can persist on surfaces such as walls, door handles and clothes. Therefore, although hand-washing is standard advice and very important, it cannot guarantee that germs won’t spread around the home or be passed directly or indirectly to others. Those particularly at risk are children under five, the elderly, pregnant women and anyone who is immunocompromised.
The leaflet clearly states that it is not advisable to keep exotic animals as pets. However, for those who already have exotic pets, recommended measures include: thorough hand-washing with antibacterial soap and alcohol-based gels after handing or feeding an exotic pet; being careful not to touch hair, clothes (including pockets), door handles and other items immediately after handling exotic pets; closely supervising children so that they do not put their mouths close to the animal; and keeping animals, cages and equipment away from kitchens.
Numerous animal-linked human diseases superficially resemble common illnesses such as gastrointestinal, respiratory and skin problems, so it is a good idea for people visiting their doctors with these signs to mention whether they may have had contact with animals in the home or elsewhere. Zoonoses are sometimes more persistent and difficult to treat than conventional diseases.
Clifford Warwick of the Emergent Disease Foundation, a charity focused on animal-to-human infections, said:
“The modern world enables all too easy acquisition of exotic animals into the home. The pet trade in general, with its high turnover and diversity of species available, offers a speed-dating reservoir for bugs from far corners of the globe. My own advice is simple – avoiding exposure to bugs from exotic pets in the home is difficult and best avoided by not keeping them in the first place.”
Dr. Bruce Kaplan of the One Health Initiative, which focuses on the connection between health and the environment, said:
“As a former U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) trained epidemiologist, a retired private practice veterinarian and a public health and humanitarian minded ‘One Health’ activist for nearly 50 years, I wholeheartedly oppose private ownership of exotic pets due to the known scientific health and safety risks for people and animals. It is a dangerous, irresponsible and irrational practice.”
Owen Evans of the Worldwide Veterinary Service, a charity that provides a veterinary resource to animal welfare organisations worldwide, said:
“We work on a day-to-day basis with animal health issues, so we are very mindful of how animals and people can share pathogens. Avoiding transmission is best served by minimising risks, which is what this new brochure aims to achieve.”
David Haynes of UNISON, the main trade union for health service employees and local authority pet shop inspectors, said:
“We welcome this important and timely guidance. It offers essential information on the prevention and control of avoidable infection to all our members who are engaged in areas of pet animal sales and inspection.”
Source: Emergent Disease Foundation