zoonoses hedgehog reptile birdZoonoses can be acquired from species other than domestic mammals and in this, the last article in our series, we discuss a few of the most common of these.

Hedgehogs

Fortunately, most hedgehogs are healthy.  However if you find a hedgehog with skin sores or prickle loss and scaly areas, it probably has hedgehog mange.  This is a hedgehog-only type disease that does not spread to humans or other species.  It can be treated by your vet who will give the hedgehog an injection of ivermectin, which usually cures the problem.

The other cause of skin sores and prickle loss is ringworm, and this can be a zoonosis, in other words it can spread to humans and sometimes other species of animal too.  Again it can usually be treated successfully by a vet.

Hedgehogs don't get fleas.  Fleas are species-specific and there are no hedgehog fleas in NZ.

In summer and autumn, hedgehogs that have skin injuries are very susceptible to the horrible disease flystrike, because they are not able to get away from blowflies as easily as other animals. The flies lay their eggs in skin sores and the eggs hatch into maggots. It's a disgusting disease, but it cannot spread from hedgehogs to other animals.

Reptiles

The risk of contracting a disease from your reptile or amphibian (such as a gecko or iguana) is generally small, as long as you practice good hygiene.

To minimize the risk of contracting a disease always buy domestically bred and raised animals and only if they appear completely healthy and have not been unduly stressed by unaccustomed handling and transportation.  Children under 10 and the elderly and people who are immuno-compromised for any reason need to take extra precautions, as they are more at risk.

A few pet reptiles carry potentially dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter in their intestine, and they can excrete them in their faeces even when the animals seem perfectly healthy. It's hard to diagnose this carrier condition so it's best to treat every reptile as if it is excreting dangerous bacteria.

Everyone in the family must wash their hands after handling a reptile.  You should wear gloves and face protection when washing reptile cages and utensils and use safe disinfectants.  Keep reptiles out of the kitchen and bathroom.

If a reptile scratches or bites a family member, scrub the wound thoroughly with plenty of hot, soapy water.  Consult a doctor for all significant bites and scratches.

There can be zoonotic organisms in reptiles other than bacteria, such as parasites of various sorts (for example, cryptosporidia) and viruses.  The same common sense preventive measures should be taken to avoid infections with these pathogens too.

Birds

If they appear bright and healthy, your cage birds aren't likely to be a source of disease for you.  However there are a few risks you should be aware of.
Psittacosis, also known as parrot fever or avian chlamydiosis, is an infection of the lungs.  It is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci, which is found in the droppings and nasal discharge of many species of bird.  Infection can cause anything from no symptoms to flu-like disease, even severe pneumonia and death.

Psittacosis infection in humans can result from breathing in the dust from the cage of an infected bird.  The disease develops 5 to 14 days later.  As with many infections, people with reduced immunity are more likely to develop severe symptoms and pneumonia.  Fortunately it generally can be treated effectively with antibiotics.

You can help prevent being infected by regularly cleaning out your birds' cages or aviaries.  As an extra precaution it is a good idea to damp down the dust at the bottom of the cage before disturbing it.  This prevents the dust from becoming airborne.  It's best to wear a face mask, particularly if you suspect your birds are infected.  Never kiss pet birds, even your budgie!

Giardiasis

Giardia are tiny parasites that live in the intestine and are spread by faecal contamination of water and food.  The disease they cause is giardiasis and it can affect many species of wild animal, livestock and family pets as well as humans.  The disease is relatively common in humans, but it is though that only a small proportion of infections are derived from animal sources.
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