Counseling Sheet

House Pets Spread Disease

Pose Threat to Child Health

From Medical Tribune, May 4, 1977

“If a family had a mentally retarded child who urinated and defecated in the street and attacked people, that child would be institutionalized very quickly. Yet we not only allow our dogs to roam freely and relieve themselves in public, we encourage them to do so. That's simply stupid.”

This observation came from Dr. Philip J. Goscienski at the 106th annual session of the California Medical Association meeting. He warned physicians about the widespread and usually unappreciated human health hazards associated with owning dogs, cats, monkeys, turtles, and other household pets. Dr. Goscienski is Head of the Infectious Diseases Branch of the Department of Pediatrics at the Naval Regional Hospital in San Diego.

Visceral larva migrans, which is carried by most if not all puppies, is easily spread to children in whom it can cause symptoms of pneumonia, liver enlargement, frequently fatal myocarditis, and seizure disorders, he said. It may be transmitted when the child kisses the puppy or when he or she eats dirt infected with the dog's fecal matter. The problem with the dog-bred disease is that it is frequently misdiagnosed as a passing viral infection, and when it is finally recognized as something else, is very difficult to treat.

Pets also contribute to the spread of Pasteurella multocida, which can usually be controlled by penicillin, but which can cause meningitis and brain abscess if not treated. The infection is associated with animal bites and is found in about half of the dogs in the United States and in almost all cats, Dr. Goscienski said.

Warning that dogs also spread Canicola fever (via Leptospira canicola), he said that infected children experience headaches, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, rash, and other symptoms. In addition, he said that up to 13% of all cases of aseptic meningitis in children can be linked to Leptospira infections. Again, because it is usually misdiagnosed as a viral infection, the physician doesn't treat it with penicillin, as should be done. As a result, about 93% of the affected children have to be hospitalized for an average stay of about 12 days.

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