Companion Animals, Humans, And Diseases: Risks And Recommendations
Zoonoses are diseases which can be transmitted from animals to humans. The CALLISTO Project – a rather clunky acronym that stands for Companion Animal multisectoriaL interprofessionaL and interdisciplinary Strategic Think tank On zoonoses – was created to study the risks of transmitting zoonoses from companion animals to humans or from companion animals to animals raised for food. The project was funded by the European Union, and was designed to: asses the role of companion animals as a source of infectious disease for humans and animals raised for food; identify gaps in knowledge or technology for management of the most significant zoonotic diseases; suggest actions that could reduce the risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks; and distribute the results of the study to relevant groups.
The study defined companion animals as those living permanently in a human community. The E.U. is home to an estimated 66 million cats, 61 million dogs, 39 million ornamental birds, 6 million horses and 9 million aquaria. CALLISTO focused on 17 zoonotic diseases of consequence to humans and four significant to farm animals. They grouped them into four categories: viral (including rabies and hantavirus), parasitic (including campylobacter and E. coli), bacterial (including giardia), and bite wound infections.
Researchers examined the risk factors for the spread of these diseases, and summarized their final recommendations into five categories. Firstly, they recommend more attention be paid to demographics and efforts to trace the movements of companion animals. This could include microchip identification and a cross-border animal registry. Secondly, they recommend education and communication efforts to expand public awareness of both the risks and benefits of keeping companion animals. This information could also include risks of zoonotic diseases and how they are spread. Third, they suggest increased surveillance and infection control through a government-run system to monitor the prevalence of companion animal zoonoses. This system would focus on dogs, cats and horses and also monitor antibiotic resistance in these species. Fourth, they suggest conducting further research to better quantify the risks of companion animals zoonoses.
Finally, they underline the need for new tools for diagnosis, prevention and therapy of zoonoses, combined with regulating the use of antibiotics critical to human health in companion animals. Related to this, they also encourage the development of new antimicrobial drugs to combat antibiotic resistance in companion animals, and expanding the ability of veterinarians and other animal containment facilities to perform rapid field diagnoses of suspected disease.
Animal advocates can use this study to learn about the risks of diseases that can be spread from companion animals to humans and they can evaluate the recommendations on ways to promote responsible guardianship of companion animals. Proposals such as mandatory microchipping of all companion animals and thoughtful education campaigns about zoonotic disease risks and the dangers of antibiotic resistance are specific points where companion animal advocates could get directly involved.