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Ah, pets. They give us affection, companionship -- and possible exposure to all kinds of diseases. But before you load up on hand sanitizer, know this: The probability of catching any of these diseases is low, so long as you follow good hygiene, use common sense when handling your pet, and understand how you’d contract these illnesses in the first place. Here’s a crash course on the most common ones.
Cat scratch fever
How you can get it: Fleas transmit the disease to cats, which in turn infect us through a scratch or bite.
Signs your pet has it: fever, headache, fatigue, poor appetite, swollen lymph glands
Ways to prevent it: Use veterinarian-approved flea control year-round to keep the bugs away. If your cat bites or scratches you, thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water and finish with an antibiotic ointment, like Neosporin.
Hookworms and roundworms
How you can get it: These intestinal parasites can infect people who are exposed to contaminated soil. Larvae enter through the mouth (dogs or children eating dirt) or through the skin (walking barefoot).
Signs your pet has it: Hookworms cause abdominal discomfort and painful, itchy skin (larvae wander aimlessly beneath the skin -- ick!). There are few symptoms with roundworms -- many patients are diagnosed accidentally.
Ways to prevent it: If you suspect your dog or cat has worms, schedule a visit with your vet. He or she can figure out exactly what type of worm your pet has. Otherwise, practice good hygiene and periodically look for worms in the stool.
How you can get it: This autoimmune disease is transmitted to people through the bite of the black-legged tick, also called a deer tick.
Signs your pet has it: Fever, headache, fatigue, joint pain, “bull's-eye”-shaped rash at bite site. If untreated, chronic joint, nerve and heart inflammation, mental changes and pain may develop.
Ways to prevent it: Use veterinarian-approved tick preventive on pets and insect repellant with DEET on yourself. When you’re walking in wooded or grassy areas, where deer ticks thrive, cover up with long pants, long sleeves, closed-toe shoes and socks. If you spot a tick on you or your pet, carefully remove it with tweezers.
Psittacosis (Parrot Fever)
How you can get it: Inhaling the droppings of an infected bird is the most common way this disease is passed on to humans.
Signs your pet has it: Not many -- birds don't usually exhibit symptoms.
Ways to prevent it: Change the paper in your bird’s cage daily, and wash the cage regularly with disinfectant. Also, steer clear of birds with any eye or nasal discharge, diarrhea or a low body weight.
How you can get it: We develop rabies through bite wounds from an infected animal. Raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats are most likely to harbor this disease, but any mammal can transmit it.
Signs your pet has it: headache, fever, confusion, agitation or sleepiness
Ways to prevent it: The biggest thing you can do is vaccinate your pets against rabies. If you’re bitten by an unvaccinated animal you suspect has rabies, thoroughly wash the wounds and call your doctor -- stat. Then contact animal control -- they’ll need to capture animal for testing and observation.
How you can get it: Not a worm, this fungal skin infection is passed on to us through direct contact with infected animals.
Signs your pet has it: Ring-shaped, crusty skin rash with hair loss and dry, cracked or brittle nails
Ways to prevent it: The easiest thing to do is just avoid direct contact with any people or pets you think could be infected. If someone in your house has ringworm, wash their bedding and clothes daily to keep it from spreading.
How you can get it: This infection is caused by eating or handling contaminated food and/or contact with infected animals such as chicks, ducklings, reptiles and amphibians. Dogs, cats and birds also carry Salmonella.
Signs your pet has it: stomach pain, diarrhea and fever
Ways to prevent it: You’re probably already doing this, but always wash your hands after you come in contact with animal feces or water from an aquarium. Also, keep reptiles and amphibians out of your house if you live with kids under 5 or people with weakened immune systems.
How you can get it: Most human tapeworm infections come from eating contaminated meats, but kids usually pick up tapeworms from dogs and cats if they swallow a flea that's infected with tapeworm larvae.
Signs your pet has it: Tapeworm segments that look like grains of rice may appear in the stool or around the anus.
Ways to prevent it: Use your vet-approved flea control medication. If you think your pet has tapeworms, schedule an appointment with your vet. If you’re worried you have it, consult your doctor.
How you can get it: Toxoplasmosis is passed to people through contact with contaminated cat feces, often through litter boxes or contaminated soil, or by eating undercooked meat, especially pork, lamb or deer. It can have serious consequences for pregnant women, so if you’re expecting, let your partner handle litter box duties.
Signs your pet has it: Most cats become immune to toxoplasmosis as soon as they’re exposed to the parasite. If yours isn’t, look for mild diarrhea and a loss of appetite.
Ways to prevent it: Wash your hands thoroughly after any contact with cat feces or soil you think could be contaminated.