Cat on bed2This month’s edition of the Internal Medicine Journal contains an article entitled High rates of potentially infectious exposures between immunocompromised patients and their companion animals: an unmet need for education (Gurry et al. 2017). The study is fairly superficial and there’s nothing particularly surprising in the paper, with results similar to what has been reported in the past (including one of our earlier studies on high risk children (Stull et al. 2014)). The sad part, perhaps, is the conclusion that there is a need for increased education of patients – something that’s been said many times before but with little resulting action.

Here are some highlights from the study, which surveyed 265 adults with a few types of disorders that would increase their risk of infection.

  • 52% owned an animal. That’s pretty consistent with other studies and what we know about pet ownership in general. High risk people tend to have the same ownership patterns as the general public.
  • Dogs and cats were the most common pets, but other species were also reported. 3% owned reptiles, which are  very high risk pets for immunocompromised individuals.
  • 30% of individuals reported having been bitten or scratched by their animal at some point. This probably poses the greatest risk for most pet owners (beyond reptile owners, where Salmonella is the main concern).
  • Close to half allowed their pet to sleep on/in the bed. That’s gotten a lot of attention in the past and I really don’t get too concerned about it in most situations. (On the bed is also different than in the bed, or sleeping right against your face.)
  • Only 17% recalled getting some information from healthcare workers about safe practices around their pets. If anything, that’s probably higher than average, showing a major gap that needs to be filled.

I think most people would agree that we need better education for high risk people about pets and zoonoses. How to actually get that done is the challenge.