Health Check: what bugs can you catch from you... - CLL Support

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Health Check: what bugs can you catch from your pets?


Our risk of zoonoses - animal-to-human diseases, is something that has had little discussion considering many of us live closely with our much loved pets. Vincent Ho, Lecturer and clinical academic gastroenterologist at University of Western Sydney, discusses the most common zoonotic diseases and how we can be on guard against them:

As the article says "Children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with a weakened immune system are more at risk of acquiring gastrointestinal zoonoses. (my emphasis)

But there seems to be a general lack of awareness of zoonotic health risks among health professionals. Few veterinarians and medical practitioners regularly discuss zoonotic disease risks of pets with clients and patients. GPs rarely ask about contact with pet stores, exotic and domestic pets, farm animals, zoos and wildlife centres as potential sources of gastroenteritis."

The article contains a list of precautions we should take when living with and interacting with our pets that is well worth reading if you are a pet owner. You might even be able to convince another family member to help with pet care. :)

I'd have to agree with the statement about GPs rarely asking about pet contact as a possible cause for infections. I ended up seeing a specialist for a supposed skin infection that wasn't healing and he said "you don't own a cat do you?" then immediately ruled out my doctor's diagnosis and correctly identified soap allergy!

If you don't have time to read the article, much of it can be summed up by the author's statement: " Don’t worry, the risk of catching these diseases can usually be mitigated by washing your hands."


Photo: White-browed Babbler caught on the open ground - a rarity. These small birds (slightly larger than a sparrow) usually travel in groups between scrub bushes and trees while babbling happily away.

5 Replies
CllcanadaTop Poster CURE Hero

My favourite on this subject... see link

A friend with CLL many years ago, had terrible trouble with 'cat scratch fever'

I was very interested in this post as I have a dog and a horse.I do wash my hands diligently after any specific care such as nail trimming,ear cleaning,etc.,but to hand wash after any contact with my dog isn't something I remember to do as my dog is with me most of the time.During my recent treatment,when my neutrophils went down to 0.0.,my Dr. was more concerned about any contact with farm environment.My horse is at a boarding stable so I stayed off that property for about 6 weeks and still limit my time spent there.I no longer help with chores there as neutrophils only up to 0.6 now.I wonder if my exposure to these environments have given me some protection that isn't always reflected in my wbc numbers?I am in no means recommending to be careless and not washing hands after contact with pets,but as a pet owner this is difficult and I wanted to share my story with other pet owners because we know how hard this can be.

I should add that I had no fevers or other signs of illness,but did avoid anyone that may have been remotely sick.

AussieNeilAdministrator in reply to lalykins

Laylkins, You are welcome to run this past your doctor or specialist, but as I understand it, yes, your exposure to environments rich in sources of infection would have put you in better stead until you developed CLL. That exposure would have enabled your B and T cells to develop antibodies/immunoglobulins that will stay with you for decades, so you'll likely fare better than someone exposed for the first time to farm animals. BUT once you have CLL, then your body's ability to develop antibodies to newly experienced pathogens only gets worse with time. Further, treatment wipes out ALL your B-lymphocytes, so you are even worse off. (This is why watch and wait is the standard 'treatment' for CLL until real treatment can no longer be put off.) Bacteria and viruses are forever slightly changing, so you could well get exposure to a bug that is similar to what has made you ill before, but not recognisable by your antibodies and you'll succumb to a 'newish' infection. (This is why we keep catching colds and flu.)

Neutrophils are like dumb troops that fight against what they think is the enemy, but they aren't that smart and can miss some invaders. That's when your body relies on the smart B and T lymphocytes to work out special recognition techniques to hunt out and destroy the intruders. With low neutrophils, there's a much higher risk of more pathogens getting deep into your body and making you really ill and reliant on the smart lymphocyte attackers - but you don't have many of these left and they don't work well because current treatments can't totally cure us of CLL.

Bottom line is that if you don't take extra care, (wearing a mask around dusty areas, hand protection (gloves) and hand washing and prompt treatment of any cuts and scratches with an antiseptic), you are likely to end up in hospital and reliant on powerful antibiotics to knock off an infection that would not put healthy people in hospital. Further, with low neutrophils and lymphocytes, your ability to get on top of that infection will be handicapped.

Disclaimer: I'm not medically trained, but I have very low neutrophil levels, haven't yet been treatment for my CLL, do live on a farm (and try to follow my advice above as well as avoiding animal contact). Ironically, I got a very small cut on my finger when replacing a tap washer at a friend's place in the city just over a year ago, My hand became infected and standard antibiotics didn't fix it. I ended up in hospital on IV antibiotics for 5 days and that seemed to fix the infection. About a month later, the infection came back with a vengeance and I needed powerful antibiotics to get it under control. My specialist is concerned that it may reappear when I eventually need treatment...

By all means enjoy your time with your animals, but remember that your life may depend on you being very careful to avoid infection - wherever you are.


lalykins in reply to AussieNeil

I am trying to learn how best to navigate this aspect of my life ,so appreciate the wisdom in your reply.


I caught toxo plasmosis from my daughter's cat that I was looking after for a few days. It caused painful lesions in the back of my eyes and had to be treated with VERY strong antibiotics, the kind they use against parasites. I also had to use steroid eye drops. It took more than three months to get rid of.

I still love this cat and occasionally look after her, but now I don't even go near the litter box...



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