Potential Zoonotic Diseases in Exotic Pets
Amy B. Worell DVM. From Pulse, Journal of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, 1999.
Some of the common zoonotic conditions affecting exotic pets are difficult if not impossible to accurately identify and isolate in these animals.
Veterinarians in clinical practice that are seeing nontraditional pets as patients should consider and educate themselves regarding the potential zoonotic diseases that may be affecting their patients. Even though there are many potential zoonotic diseases that may occasionally affect these special animals, only the most common and frequently encountered conditions will be emphasized in this paper. Veterinarians treating exotic animals should be aware that physicians may be uninformed as to the zoonotic conditions affecting commonly kept exotics and that the animal owners themselves often are poorly informed as to zoonotic disease potentially housed in their pets.
Knowledge of zoonotic conditions affecting exotic animals is particularly important in immunocompromised individuals, such as those individuals undergoing chemotherapy or with immunosuppressive conditions.Some of the common zoonotic conditions affecting exotic pets are difficult if not impossible to accurately identify and isolate in these animals. Such would be the situation with Salmonella infections in reptiles and chlamydiosis in some avian species. These microorganism, in addition to difficulty in isolation and identifying the presence of the organism, may be intermittently shed from the animal, which further increases the challenge for identifying those animals which are subclinically affected.
Newcastle disease is a serious and fatal viral disease of avian species. Affected birds may demonstrate neurological signs that progress to death. Definitive diagnosis is through viral isolation of the organism. The disease is quite contagious among birds, and has zoonotic potential that often may go unrecognized. Clinical signs in people most commonly involve a mild conjunctivitis, which is self-limiting. Mycobacterium avian (and possibly other species) is the causative agent of tuberculosis. Affected birds may carry the disease for years, with intermittent organism shed. Clinical signs in avian species generally involve a significant weight loss in a poor-doing bird. Definitive diagnosis is accomplished through viral isolation and identification of the organism, although the acid-fast test on tissue samples is commonly used for a diagnosis of avian TB. Avian TB is considered a potential zoonotic disease especially in immunocompromised individuals. Clinical signs in people would be associated with respiratory signs.
Other potential zoonotic diseases affecting avian species include Giardia, Salmonellosis, Campylobacteiosis, Yersiniosis, and allergic alveolitis. In this last condition, which is also called hypersensitivity pneumonitis, people become hypersensitized to avian antigenic substances such as feathers and fecal material. It most commonly occurs with exposure to pigeons and budgerigars.
As with other zoonotic infections affecting exotic animals, this bacterium may be carried for years, and intermittently shed from the animal. Isolation of the organism from reptiles is difficult at best, and lack of isolation of the organism does not preclude its presence in an individual. Estimations, for example, of the commonly kept green iguana (Iguana iguana), suggest that up to 90% of these animals may harbor this organism. Clinical signs in carrier animals are probably nonexistent, while clinical signs in affected people can include severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, and death. Actual documented cases of reptile originated human Salmonella infections are not common, especially considering the large numbers of these animals that are kept as pets. As with many potentially zoonotic infections, children and immunosuppressed individuals are at greater risk for infection. Culturing reptiles for the organism is not routinely done as the organism is intermittently shed from the intestinal tract. If one elects to culture for the organism, then the literature suggests that five negative cultures would suggest a reptile free of Salmonella. A new Salmonella PCR is also available which is genus-specific for Salmonella. It has been suggested that three negative PCR tests can be considered as five negative culture tests.
Other potential zoonotic diseases include Campylobacter and several Mycobacterium species.
Dermatomycosis infections in rabbits should be considered in the differential diagnosis of an alopecic or pruritic rabbit. Both Microsporum and Trichophyton species can occur. Diagnosis is through culture of the organism, and clinical signs are similar to other mammals. Infections in people generally involve classical pruritic ringworm skin lesions. Zoonotic potential seems to center on an individuals susceptibility to the infection rather than mere exposure to the fungus.
Dermatophytosis is sometimes identified in hedgehogs. The most common causative agent is Trichophyton, with a variety of species. Clinically affected hedgehogs may have scaling along the ear margins and face, mild pruritis, and quill loss. Trichophyton of course, has zoonotic potential.
Pets such as Mice, Rats, Hamsters, and Gerbils
1. Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents. Clinical Medicine and Surgery. E. Hillyer, K. Quesenberry, W. B. Saunders, Philadelphia, 1997.
2. Handbook of Rodent and Rabbit Medicine. K. Laber-Laird, M. Swindle, and P. Flecknell. Elsevier Science Ltd., New York., 1996.
3. Avian Medicine and Surgery. B. Altman, S. Clubb, G. Dorrestein, K. Quesenberry. W. B. Saunders, 1997.
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