Part I Lyme disease is accompanied by enough paranoia. Bad headlines don’t help. A recent article on The Daily Mail is about Lyme disease and pets. It’s actually not a bad article, outlining some important issues. However, the headline shows a big disconnect between some good content in the article and a complete misunderstanding of the situation. The title: Warning to dog owners over the ticks that can wreck lives: Many are unaware their pets can transmit potentially deadly Lyme disease to them, say vets To be brief, pets can’t transmit Lyme disease. Ticks that infect pets can also infect people, but that’s it. Part II Dr. Jason Stull (newly minted Canadian) spearheaded a commentary in the Canadian Medical Association Journal with Dr. Jason Brophy (infectious diseases physician) and myself. The article raises the issues of zoonotic diseases and pets, particularly in high risk people, and the need for physicians to have increased awareness thereof. It outlines some of the important issues, how pets and pet contact are common, what things increase the risk, the need for more information about pet-associated disease, and the need for people to take reasonable precautions to reduce the risks.
The title of the paper is important to consider: “Reducing the risk of pet-associated zoonotic infections“
The paper’s attracted a lot of attention. Some good. Some not. Many reporters have spun it towards sensationalizing the risks. Here are some examples of (bad) headlines:
- Experts warn pets can cause illnesses, especially in immunocompromised owners
- Your furry friend may be carrying diseases
- Pets can make their owners sick, researchers say
- Who let the dogs out? Pet therapy’s hidden danger
…and my favourite:
- 8 disgusting diseases you can catch from your pet
I guess those headlines are catchy, but the key point is not that your cat or dog is likely to kill you. The key points are:
- Physicians need to query pet contact when individuals become ill.
- People need to think about basic routine practices to reduce the risk of disease transmission from pets, especially in high risk households.
- We need more information about pet-associated diseases.
More accurate, but perhaps less catchy, headlines might have included:
- Wash your hands, don’t eat poop and don’t be stupid, researchers say
- Docs need to ask if patients have contact with animals