If you've been following the news recently, you may have seen or heard all sorts of reports about odd, thought-to-be-gone diseases. Typhus, Hanta Virus, Rabies, and even Bubonic Plague — what’s next, swarms of locusts?
These diseases popped up for a number of reasons. Typhus was diagnosed in a child in Southern California when he was bitten by a flea carrying the bacteria (Rickettsia typhus) that causes Typhus. The flea most likely was living on either a possum (one of which was carrying 10 times the average number of fleas for that area), or a stray cat. Hanta Virus was passed to hundreds of campers in Yosemite Valley this summer. This disease is passed from the feces of mice, and the numbers of mice in the campground had swelled to nearly 20 times what was normal. And we here in Northern Virginia weren’t spared from contagious disease either. You may recall that there was a woman in Fairfax County a few months ago who was attacked by a rabid beaver while was swimming in a lake. Fortunately, people nearby came to her rescue and killed the beaver (later confirmed to be positive for rabies). As for the case of Bubonic Plague, the little girl who contracted it had been out camping with her family in Colorado when she came upon a dead squirrel. Little did she know that the squirrel was covered with infectious fleas carrying Yersinia pestis, the agent causing plague. Fortunately the physicians tested for this and were able to save her life.
The take home message here is that these deadly diseases are still out there, not just in some third world country. They are typically passed by vectors such as fleas, stray cats, ticks, or other animals or parasites, and they can infect either you or your pet. Make sure you keep your pet up to date on his/her vaccines, use appropriate flea and tick preventives (careful with many over-the-counter products, as they can be toxic to cats), and don't go swimming with any aggressive-looking beavers.
P.S. There are many other zoonotic diseases (contagious to people from animals or insects) not mentioned here such as parasitic, tick-borne, and mosquito-borne (like West Nile), so that will be in my next article.