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Rabies, Ringworm, and Parasites…Oh my!

It is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with all of the various things you can pick up or be exposed to when you are working with animals. This article highlights the more common varieties.

First and foremost, good old Rabies. The best protection is certainly to have already been vaccinated against Rabies and to minimize any possible exposure. If you are not vaccinated stay away from stray cats, dogs, cute abandoned kittens, puppies, and any animal with an unknown vaccination history, or that may have bite wounds from an unknown source. If you must handle these animals, employ safe restraint procedures, especially for any animal displaying neurological signs. By safe restraint we mean avoiding exposure to bites or scratches – this may mean thick gloves, large blankets or chemical restraint. Just a note to those unvaccinated, there will be many a doctor, technician, or others that will try to convince you to handle an animal in question; most of these individuals will be vaccinated already, and will convey to you how very unlikely it is that the particular animal in question could ever have rabies. Do not be afraid to voice your concerns regarding your safety and the safety of others and request that proper restraint measures be employed. Make no mistake the decision is yours, however rabies is absolutely fatal. There is no cure, treatment, or drug that will make you live a day longer than the normal course of the disease. Those of you who are vaccinated glove up! Use common sense and if you are exposed via scratch or bite notify the head of your department, doctor, or practice owner; you may require a booster immunization. Also immediately flush out the affected area under running water and squeeze to make it bleed – this can in effect wash the virus down the drain. Flush for several minutes and then soak the area in a betadine solution. For those of you who are vaccinated, remember to have your titer checked about every 5 years – your regular doctor should be able to arrange this for you and it should be covered under your health insurance. See for the complete compendium on rabies prevention and control.

On to ringworm, the fungus among us. Nothing is more frustrating than an outbreak of ringworm at your practice. It is the gift that just keeps on giving, unfortunately. Anytime you see suspicious hair loss, especially on cats or kittens, pull fungal assays, pre-treat with anti-fungal baths, +/- topical treatment pending the results, and get that patient into isolation. Use a 10% bleach in water solution spray on any hard surfaces, keep linens separate, and add bleach to every load of laundry. Overkill is entirely warranted in this case; if you are lax in your cleaning methods you will eventually and unwittingly spread ringworm to other staff members, your own pets, and worst of all your client’s pets; have fun explaining that one. Worse yet will be the reaction of the practice owner who will have to pay for all of the medical treatment for those animals unnecessarily exposed. Yikes.

Parasites. Other than sarcoptic mange, most parasites are difficult to catch unless your own hygiene is severely lacking. If you happen to catch one of these little critters, while highly stomach turning, there are treatments that will eradicate them. Remember that round worms have been known to cause blindness in young children so if you do take kittens or whatever into your home, keep your young children away, use the appropriate dewormer, and wash, wash, wash. Of high concern if your practice happens to deal with wildlife is Heliobactor pylori, Leptospirosis, and Baylisascaris procyonis (the raccoon roundworm). Baylisascaris is a type of roundworm that can actually migrate to the brain and currently there are no curative treatments when they have reached this stage. Alveolar hydatid disease is also a highly lethal disease in humans, caused by the larval form of the tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis. Larval cysts form in the liver and potentially the lung and brain; not a very common tapeworm but spreading throughout the Midwestern U.S. Again common sense plays a huge role here. Always wear gloves for high risk patients, never eat in your animal wards, always wash and dry your hands thoroughly, keep your mouth closed or use a mask if you will be handling a feces or urine saturated patient. Example: raccoon with a diarrhea and urine soaked tail, you pick it up with gloves and the raccoon flips its tail and flings liquid diarrhea into your mouth/eyes, need I say more?

See for extensive guidelines on parasite control.
Be careful, be smart, and always be observant. Is your patient beginning to act somewhat odd, neurologic, or aggressive? Do they have a sparse or patchy hair coat, and seem itchy? Are they having uncontrollable, foul smelling diarrhea, and appear to be dehydrated? It could be Rabies, ringworm, or parasites…oh my.