What zoonotic microorganisms do pangolins commonly carry?
Are some pangolins higher risk than others?
What infection control measures should be used?
I don’t know, and from a cursory review of the literature, I don’t think anyone really knows.
So, do we really want to be exposing them to some of our most susceptible individuals – kids who are patients in children’s hospitals?
CBSnews.com posted an article earlier this year about exotic animals and hospitals (something that would be contrary to international pet therapy program guidelines published in the American Journal of Infection Control, and various other policies). The cover picture is of a child, presumably quite immunocompromised, touching a pangolin. She’s wearing a mask and gloves, but it looks like she’s also wearing her pajamas (which she is touching with her glove, that maybe just touched the animal).
In reality, the title and pictures don’t have a lot to do with the actual article. It focuses on a great initiative by a group of zoos to create videos about animals and animal care, and to make a TV network that will be provided to children’s hospitals across the US. That sounds like a great idea. The pictures of exotic animals in hospitals are not-so-great.
Pet therapy’s a wonderful thing. I work with pet therapy programs and have been involved in a few initiatives to produce guidelines to make these programs as safe and effective as possible. Part of that involves knowing what you’re dealing with.
Yes, pangolins (sometimes referred to as "walking artichokes") are cool looking critters. I’m sure the kids get a kick out of seeing them. But, is there any additional benefit beyond what the children would get from interacting with a well trained dog? Beyond the cool factor, there’s not a lot of personal connection with a pangolin, I suspect. A happy, friendly dog might actually provide a greater benefit, and since we know a lot about dogs, we are able to manage the risks much more effectively.
The zoo TV initiative sounds great.
Well-run pet therapy programs are similarly great.
Bringing pangolins and other exotic animals into hospitals… not so much.
Photo: Tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis) in central Democratic Republic of the Congo (credit: Valerius Tygart)(click image for source)