Catching Diseases From Our Pets

There are many hazards associated with being a veterinarian. The most obvious is the possibility of being bit by a painful or angry patient. Also topping the list is stepping in a steamy pile of poop or being peed on without an extra set of clothes on hand.

The most dangerous hazard, however, can be a group of maladies termed zoonotic diseases. These are nasty critters that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Unfortunately, I’ve had my share.

“Good morning, John, how can I help you today?” asked my internal medicine doctor.

“Well, Doc, I think I contracted another illness from one of my patients.” I replied. “Instead of trying to treat it myself, I thought I’d take your advice and come in for an appointment.”

Smiling ear-to-ear, I raised my eyebrows to acknowledge the scholarly professional sitting before me.

“Hmm, I’m glad you learned your lesson from last time.” Doc peered at me with an admonishing glare. “Remember the ringworm incident?”

Nodding with a wee bit of reluctance, I agreed. Once before, I had tried to treat a case of ringworm that I contracted from a cute little kitten. The results were not pretty, but that’s another story.

“So what is it this time?” asked Doc.

“Well, I think I have … chlamydia.” I waited for the shocked expression that I had hoped to elicit. Alas, there was none.

“I see…” was the response. “And how did you get this so-called chlamydia?”

I had planned to weave a most vivid tale, but knew I couldn’t do so with a straight face, so I fessed up.

“A patient of mine, Tucker, came into our hospital because of a horrible head cold. Tucker wasn’t eating and was very lethargic. Anyway, as I listened to his heart, Tucker sneezed directly into my face. Seven days later I find myself lying in bed with the chills and bouts of scrambling to the toilet wishing I had bought softer TP.”

“Let me guess,” said Doc “Tucker is a bird, and you think you have chlamydia psittaci or, in other words, psittacosis.”

“Impressive,” I said. “I knew I came to you for a reason. Anyway, I would recommend a round of antibiotics … Doxycycline, if you will, please.”

After a thorough physical exam, Doc agreed, and 24 hours later I was back on my feet and raring to go.

Psittacosis is a disease of birds that causes difficulty breathing, sneezing, watery eyes and diarrhea to those afflicted. It is zoonotic, which means people can catch it from their feathery family member. In people, the disease can lead to severe pneumonia even to the point of hospitalization. Treatment with an appropriate antibiotic is usually effective and early recognition is important.

If your pet is sick, take it to your veterinarian, but don’t forget to safeguard against becoming ill yourself. It may save you a lengthy explanation about how you got chlamydia to a very understanding doctor — or spouse, for that matter.