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Zoonoses in the Bedroom

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January 14, 2011

The article of interest summarized below will appear in the February 2011 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the monthly peer-reviewed public health journal of the Centers for Disease Control, CDC.

"Zoonoses in the Bedroom," by Bruno B. Chomel and Ben Sun, sheds light on the question, How close is too close? The authors reviewed estimates of people from several countries reporting that they slept with their pets or allowed the animals to lick or kiss them. The estimated percentage of pet owners who allow dogs or cats on their beds ranges from 14% to 62%.

Pets are part of our lives, sharing our houses, our bedrooms, and even our beds. However, along with the benefits of this closeness (stress relief and exercise) comes risk for illness. Seemingly healthy pets can carry parasites, bacteria, or viruses that cause mild to life-threatening illness in their owners. Chomel and Sun examined case studies of several diseases associated with close contact between humans and pets. For example, a man whose dog slept under the covers with him and licked his hip replacement wound came down with meningitis, and a 9-year-old boy whose flea-infested cat slept with him got plague. Other diseases mentioned in the article are bartonellosis, Chagas disease and Pasteurella infection.

The authors conclued that the risk of getting sick from sleeping with, kissing, or being licked by pets is real, but the risk can be reduced by keeping pets healthy. Regular veterinary care is key to having a healthy pet and enjoying the benefits of pet ownership.

Chomel is a professor of zoonoses in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree program and the Master of Preventive Veterinary Medicine degree program. His research interest focuses on Bartonella, the pathogen's transmission and novel vectors of of the disease of bartonellosis. He also teaches courses in epidemiology and veterinary public health, and he is the co-director of the Master of Preventive Veterinary Medicine degree program.

Ben Sun, DVM, MPVM, is the state public health veterinarian for the California Department of Health. He is a graduate of the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Bruno B. Chomel, DVM, PhD
Department of Population Health and Reproduction, School of Veterinary Medicine,
University of California, Davis