Zoonotic Diseases & Horses

A zoonotic disease is a disease that can be passed from animals to humans. Following are some related to horses and other equine.

Campylobacter

Campylobacter is the most common bacterial cause of gastroenteritis worldwide and can be transmitted from horses to people via activities such as cleaning their stalls and grooming. Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, headache, nausea, and/or vomiting lasting 3-6 days. You can also prevent Campylobacter infection by avoiding contact with horses and their manure, and if contact is necessary, thoroughly wash hands and clothing afterwards.

Cryptosporidosis

Cryptosporidosis is a parasitic disease that causes a mild to severe infection of the gastrointestinal system, including watery diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Most people who get cryptosporidosis get it from contaminated food or water, but the parasite Cryptosporidium may be present in horse manure, so exhibit caution when visiting and caring for horses. If you develop symptoms, contact your physician.

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)

Transmission of MRSA infections between pets and humans are increasing, with the most common being infections of the skin, soft-tissue and surgical infections. Dog or cat bites can result in infection, caused by bacteria from the animal's mouth and on the patients' body. Animals are potential reservoirs of MSRA infection due to increasing prevalence of community-acquired MRSA (CA-MRSA) in humans and domestic animals such as dogs, cats and horses. MRSA-associated infections in pets are typically acquired from their owners and can potentially cycle between pets and their human acquaintances. Treatment of MRSA infections in pets is similar to that used in humans. Resistant to penicillin and methicillin, CA-MRSA infections can still be treated with other common-use antibiotics. CA-MRSA most often enters the body through a cut or scrape and appears in the form of a skin or soft tissue infection, such as a boil or abscess. The involved site is red, swollen, and painful and is often mistaken for a spider bite. Though rare, CA-MRSA can develop into more serious invasive infections, such as bloodstream infections or pneumonia, leading to a variety of other symptoms including shortness of breath, fever, chills, and death. CA-MRSA can be particularly dangerous in children because their immune systems are not fully developed. You should pay attention to minor skin problems—pimples, insect bites, cuts, and scrapes—especially in children. If the wound appears to be infected, see a healthcare provider.

Salmonellosis

Salmonellosis is caused by the bacteria Salmonella. Typical symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and stomach pain that starts 1 to 3 days after infection. These symptoms usually go away after 1 week. In some cases, medical attention is required because the diarrhea is severe or the infection has affected other organs. Usually, people get salmonellosis by eating contaminated food, such as chicken or eggs. However, farm animals such as horses can carry Salmonella and pass it in their feces. If you have a compromised immune system, be extra cautious when visiting farms and animals at petting zoos.

To reduce infection risks, you should:

  • Wash hands after contact with pets, pet food and pet bowls. Wash with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds, then rinse and dry your hands with a paper towel.
  • Routinely clean pet food bowls and feeding areas.
  • Keep children younger than age 5 away from pet food and feeding areas.
  • Clean pets' food and water dishes in a separate sink or tub, not in the kitchen or bathtub.
  • Avoiding bathing infants in the kitchen sink.

Prevention

It is important to remember that the best way to protect yourself from many of these zoonotic diseases is to practice good hygiene after handling animals or their waste. Wash your hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water after any contact.

If you have any questions about these diseases or concerns about your animal's health, please consult your veterinarian. If you have concerns about your health, please seek medical attention from your health care provider.

Published: March 23, 2009;    Updated:

Filed Under: Zoonotic Diseases, Equine

Author: Oregon Veterinary Medical Association

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