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When you spend time around an animal-whether it's a pet, a farm animal, or a wild animal-there's a chance you can pick up an infection.

An infection you get from an animal is called a zoonosis (say "zoh-uh-NOH-sus"). Some infections can seem mild, but others can be quite serious. So it's a good idea to learn about your risks and how to protect yourself and other people. People who are most in need of protection are children under age 5, pregnant women, and people with weak immune systems.

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Washing your hands well may be all you need to do to prevent infection from some animals. But with others, you need to do more than simple hand washing.

How can animals make you sick?

You can get a zoonosis from a mammal, a reptile, an amphibian, or a bird. It could be a pet, an animal at a farm or a petting zoo, or a wild animal that passes infection on to you.

It's not just touching an animal that can expose you to bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. You can get infected when you:

  • Touch something that an animal has touched, such as bedding, a kennel, a stall, or your own clothing.
  • Touch feces or urine from an animal.
  • Are licked, scratched, or bitten by an animal.
  • Breath in dust that carries disease from an animal, as in a barnyard or a mouse nest.
  • Handle animal meat. Kitchen and food prep areas can be contaminated by raw meat, such as chicken, beef, or game.
  • Drink water from canals, creeks, or lakes. They might be contaminated with animal waste.
  • Eat food from infected animals, such as raw milk, cheese, or meat, or eat produce grown in contaminated water.

Before you travel, learn about common animal-borne infection risks where you're going. Then learn how to protect yourself from them.

How can you prevent infections from animals?

Keep your pet healthy

  • Keep up with your pet's vaccinations.
  • De-worm pets, especially puppies and kittens. They're a common source of worms. Talk to your veterinarian about what to use and how often.
  • House train or litter box train your pet. Clean up pet waste often.
  • Control and remove fleas and ticks. They can carry disease.
  • Visit your vet when your pet is ill or is acting differently than usual.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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