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Zoonoses In General


| Introduction | Transmission Of Zoonoses | Response To Zoonotic Organisms | Preventative Measures | High Risk Group | Related Topics | References |
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A zoonosis (pl. zoonoses) is any animal condition or disease transmissible to humans. The word zoonosis originates from the Greek word zoon, meaning animals, and nosos, meaning disease. The World Health Organisation (WHO) Expert Committee on Zoonoses defines the word as "those diseases and infections that are naturally transmitted between vertebrate animals and man".

Exotic animals have various normal commensal bacteria on their skins and in their digestive systems. These bacteria do not necessarily cause disease in their natural hosts (i.e. the herptile), but can be detrimental when in an unfamiliar environment of an unnatural host (i.e. a human). Normal commensal bacteria are "known" to the immune system of their natural host, but most of the time problems occur when they are "foreign" to the immune system of the unnatural host.

There are some known normal commensal bacteria in reptiles, for example some Salmonella biovars, that cause disease in humans.

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Transmission Of Zoonoses:

Zoonotic diseases from any animal are usually transmitted to humans by direct or indirect contact. After initial transmission to in-contact surfaces, such as the skin, these organisms are spread to the mouth or other mucous membranous surfaces like the eyes and nose where they potentially enter the new host.

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Response To Zoonotic Organisms:

When the now called pathogen enters the human body the local immune system can recognize the foreign organism and can mount an appropriate or inappropriate immune response. When an appropriate immune response is mounted, the pathogen is destroyed, but when the immune system cannot mount an appropriate response because for example there are too many pathogens or the immune response does not recognize the organisms as foreign, the pathogen will cause disease. The immune response can sometimes help to spread the organism via the lymph nodes and blood to the rest of the body.

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Preventative Measures:

  • All exotic animals should be considered carriers of zoonotic diseases.
  • The high risk group should reduce or prevent direct or indirect contact with exotic animals, incl. the supervision of children.
  • The handler should wash his / her hands and arms with a commercial, antiseptic soap after any contact with these animals, their food or cage decoration and substrate.
  • Not allow these animals to come in direct contact with mouth (i.e. kissing)
  • These animals should never be allowed to roam freely in the living areas where people might be contaminated. It is more important to keep these animals out of kitchens and other food-preparation areas.
  • Kitchen sinks, bathtubs and washbasins should be washed thoroughly and disinfected after bathing any exotic animal or using it to wash terrarium furniture.
  • Bio-security (also see General Animal Bio-security & Quarantine)
  • All people coming in direct or indirect contact with exotic should be aware of the risks and behave accordingly.

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High Risk Group:

Anybody coming in direct contact with exotic animals and who ignores the preventative measures are prone to zoonotic diseases.

Theoretically, depending on the nature of the disease, the at risk groups can be divided into those with a compromised immune system (i.e. those diseases that are less likely to populate when the person is healthy) and those which poses a danger irrespective the immune status (i.e. those people that gets exposed to the disease a lot more often than others).

The immune compromised group includes people that are  very young, old, HIV positive and cancer patients. Children less than five years of age are recommended not to come in direct contact with these animals as they are very prone to get diseases when present.

The high exposure group includes anyone that comes into contact with the disease. People such as para-veterinary workers and human health workers are more at risk because of the nature of their work.


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"If you think I should add more information to this section or think that something is incorrect, contact me and let me know. I would love to hear your ideas or methods you might use that is different than ours."

Last updated 8 February 2009 by Renier Delport

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"Always remember only to buy healthy animals from reputable pet shops and breeders. Make sure to buy animals that are captive bred in your own country and that it is not illegally imported or caught from the wild."

Related Topics:

General Animal Bio-security & Quarantine

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| Introduction | Transmission Of Zoonoses | Response To Zoonotic Organisms | Preventative Measures | High Risk Group | Related Topics | References |
| Email This Page |



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