I just read a recent Medscape article entitled Human-Animal Interactions: a primer for clinicians. I assumed it would be one more relatively generic article about zoonoses, focusing on agriculture. Some of those aspects were there, but it had a lot more depth than I expected and went beyond the same old superficial talking points.

The article ends by asking the question “What should a healthcare clinician do about zoonotic diseases?

This is an important question, but one that physicians too rarely consider.

These were the main points from the article:

  • Acknowledging that time with each individual patient is short, obtaining information about a patient’s occupation, hobbies, or other factors that could put them at an increased risk of acquiring a zoonotic infection should be considered in some cases to make a correct diagnosis, prescribe effective treatment, or adequately counsel a patient about prevention of reinfection.
  • Remaining up to date on zoonotic diseases enables healthcare providers to learn about what is emerging around the world, or on their doorstep. Finally, developing and maintaining relationships with local professionals in both public health and veterinary medicine allows clinicians to become familiar with common zoonotic infections in their region, and encourages a “One Health” perspective on disease diagnosis and treatment.
  • Although the odds are slim that you will uncover the newest SARS or "bird flu," this knowledge could result in more appropriate antibiotic treatment in patients presenting with an E. coli urinary tract infection, or in clearing up a recurrent methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection in a patient by an act as simple as treating the family cat.

Good, simple advice.

At the end, I went back to see who the author was, since I was impressed with the article. I was somewhat surprised by the name… not because of the writing but because it wasn’t a physician. Rather, it was Tara Smith, PhD, a colleague who deals a lot with MRSA in animals. So, looking back it wasn’t too surprising that the message was a little different from the average zoonoses article. I just wish I’d see the same points being pushed by MDs too.

  • I thought most MRSA infections in animals were acquired from humans, not the other way around?

  • Scott Weese

    That’s true, when it comes to small animals. The paper that was cited for that example is very weak and while pet-human transmission can happen, MDs need to realize it’s uncommon and most often the other direction.