Patients in hospital and other healthcare facilities are attracted to and enjoy petting animals. People need to be aware of the potential health risks and how to avoid them when pet visitors enter a healthcare environment.
What are zoonoses?
Zoonoses are diseases that can be passed from animals to humans. Animals may carry a range of germs without showing any signs of disease. Most zoonoses are uncommon and can usually be treated when detected. While there are dozens of zoonotic diseases, there are a few that are particularly dangerous to humans. Zoonoses include MRSA Campylobacter infection, cryptosporidiosis, salmonellosis, toxin producing E. coli, ringworm, Psittacosis, Q fever, hydatids, leptospirosis, toxoplasmosis and toxocariasis.
How are zoonoses spread?
can be spread through direct contact with animals and then placing
contaminated fingers or other items in the mouth. Diseases can also be
spread through animal bites and scratches, contact with their hair and
fur, or through indirect contact with their faeces, urine, saliva,
blood, aerosols or environments contaminated with these materials.
Diseases can also be spread through contaminated dust.
Who is at risk?
is at risk but particularly those people with weakened immune systems,
the elderly, pregnant women, young children and those who are ill.
What precautions can the general public take?
Hand washing is the key. Infectious diseases may be spread from either animals or the environment to people by contaminated hands. Hand washing is one of the most important practices in preventing the spread of disease for people coming into contact with pet visitors. Always wash hands with soap and running water before eating, drinking or smoking.
When an animal visits, do not:
- Touch mouth with hands, or lick fingers
- Eat food intended for animals
- Leave open wounds uncovered
- Wipe hands on clothing, if avoidable.
Always wash hands and other exposed body parts with soap and running water, particularly after:
- Touching animals, or food containers. Any part of the animal or its surrounds can be contaminated with faeces or urine.
- Being licked, bitten or spat on by animals
- Having contact with soil or faeces.
What precautions can healthcare facilities take?
facilities should obtain the informed consent of patients and carers
well before the pet visits. Staff should closely supervise patients who
are petting animals by using the precautions outlined above. Hand
washing of the patients immediately afterwards should also be closely
supervised, ensuring that hand-washed patients do not become
recontaminated by being in contact with other patients who have not
washed their hands.
What precautions can pet owners take?
Pet owners should take precautions to reduce the risk of ill health to patients. Owners should assume that all animals carry germs harmful to humans and take appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of disease, by:
· Providing only healthy animals for visiting purposes or contact by establishing a close association with a vet to ensure animals are clinically healthy, appropriately vaccinated, and maintaining a comprehensive parasite control program for all species
· Practicing and promoting thorough hand washing with soap and running water after contact with animals.
· Keeping animals out of eating areas
· Keep alcohol hand sanitiser handy and use it before touching animals and patients where handwashing facilities are not immediately available.
· Make sure you immediately clean up any faeces or urine.
· Only eat or drink in designated areas, not in animal contact areas. If a healthcare facility does not have separate visitor eating and animal contact areas, signs should advise visitors that hands should be thoroughly washed with soap and running water after touching animals and before eating.
· Wash or bath your pet using an approved and accredited pet shampoo before and after visiting.
Hand Hygiene – Good Practice
It is generally accepted that around 70% of all cross infection is as a result of poor or inadequate hand hygiene.
Here are some simple guidelines which will assist in reducing risk.
Note: ‘Hand-washing’ refers to the use of soap and water to remove dirt, oil and other substances that signal that the hands are not clean. ‘Decontamination’ refers to cleansing the hands of unwanted bacteria after they have been washed or when they are known to be clean
1. Hands must be decontaminated immediately before each and every episode of direct patient contact or care and after any activity or contact that could potentially result in hands becoming contaminated.
2. Hands that are visibly soiled, or potentially grossly contaminated with dirt or organic material, must be washed with liquid soap and water.
3. Hands must be decontaminated, unless hands are visibly soiled, between caring for different patients or between different care activities for the same patient.
4. Before regular hand decontamination begins, all wrist and hand jewelry should be removed. Cuts and abrasions must be covered with waterproof dressings. Fingernails should be kept short, clean and free from nail polish.
5. An effective handwashing technique involves three stages: preparation, washing and rinsing, and drying. Preparation requires wetting hands under tepid running water before applying liquid soap or an antimicrobial preparation. The handwash solution must come into contact with all of the surfaces of the hand. The hands must be rubbed together vigorously for a minimum of 10-15 seconds, paying particular attention to the tips of the fingers, the thumbs and the areas between the fingers. Hands should be rinsed thoroughly before drying with good quality paper towels. Hands should not be left damp.
6. When decontaminating hands using an anti-microbial handrub, hands should be free from dirt and organic material. The handrub solution must come into contact with all surfaces of the hand and the directions for use followed rigorously. Particular attention should be paid to the tips of the fingers, the thumbs and the areas between the fingers, until the solution has evaporated and the hands are dry.
7. If a particular soap, antimicrobial hand wash or alcohol product causes skin irritation an occupational health team should be consulted.