Human-Animal Infections: A Primer for Clinicians

Tara C. Smith, PhD


December 16, 2013

In This Article

What Can Busy Clinicians Do?

It is safe to say that zoonotic diseases will continue to emerge. Some, such as SARS-CoV, may be explosive but then retreat into the wild. Others, such as hantavirus, may cause a slow, consistent burn, rarely causing outbreaks but sporadically infecting at-risk individuals.

Still others may steadily increase over time. West Nile virus was initially recognized in New York City in 1999, thanks to the combined work of public health practitioners, basic researchers, and veterinarians.[17] This zoonotic disease now has spread across the United States, causing human disease in 46 states in 2013.

What should a healthcare clinician do about zoonotic diseases? Acknowledging that time with each individual patient is short, obtaining information about a patient's occupation, hobbies, or other factors that could put them at an increased risk of acquiring a zoonotic infection should be considered in some cases to make a correct diagnosis, prescribe effective treatment, or adequately counsel a patient about prevention of reinfection.

Remaining up to date on zoonotic diseases enables healthcare providers to learn about what is emerging around the world, or on their doorstep. Finally, developing and maintaining relationships with local professionals in both public health and veterinary medicine allows clinicians to become familiar with common zoonotic infections in their region, and encourages a "One Health" perspective on disease diagnosis and treatment.

Although the odds are slim that you will uncover the newest SARS or "bird flu," this knowledge could result in more appropriate antibiotic treatment in patients presenting with an E coli urinary tract infection, or in clearing up a recurrent methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection in a patient by an act as simple as treating the family cat.[3]


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