Webinar presenter Dr. Jay Tischendorf answered a number of your questions after his presentation, The Wild World of Zoonotic Disease. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: What do contagion and pathogen mean? Help us understand what those two words mean and the difference.
Dr. Jay Tischendorf: A contagion is basically just another term for infectious disease, anything that is contagious or can be shared. I sort of made that flippant comment that contagion is if you’re that guy or that girl with that particular infectious agent so that might not win you friends or likes of Facebook, just to know the name for that infectious disease. A pathogen is a kind of lump all term for any of those five or six entities we talked about, bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, parasites or prions. All of those are basically lumped into this category we call pathogens that cause pathology or problems with animals because of their infectious nature. Thank you very much for asking that. I appreciate that.
Audience Question: In a disaster sheltering environment where only dogs and cats are involved and wherein an indoor structured environment, what do you feel are the highest risk diseases that we should be worrying about? Again that’s for a disaster sheltering situation.
Dr. Jay Tischendorf: Keep in mind that that shelter number one doesn’t necessarily know the background of those animals that are there. Oftentimes, there are some open-air components or doors or windows being opened so you can have vectors show up that you have otherwise anticipated. In some places like Houston, we’ve got mosquitoes and arguable Chagas bugs can show up as well. Think about that. Mice, rodents, rats can potentially find their way in. The bigger concern I think is just being aware of how those pathogens, diseases whatever they might be can be transmitted either among the animals themselves or to us. Aerosolization, ingestion or injection or through a bite. Without necessarily understanding each of the individual diseases, finding ways to protect ourselves and minimize the transmission. I would be concerned with many environments about animals showing up potentially with distemper, leptospirosis, again the list goes on. Some of them may be carrying fleas which can transmit Bartonella, Tularemia. Some may have ticks, again it’s that Rogue’s Gallery. If you want to take the 4 or 8-hour course I offer, we can go into detail on some of those diseases. Doing good physical exams on those animals, getting them vaccinated as soon as they are brought in in the hopes that at least it will protect them if they haven’t been exposed to it until this point, we might get them protected. Understanding too we could be vaccinating an animal that already has been exposed something like distemper or parvo and those vaccines aren’t necessarily going to work in case that an infection is already underway. The other disease I might mention would be those fecal borne parasites and like whipworms, hookworms, and roundworms, things like that.
Audience Question: What is the role of climate change in perpetuating or spreading zoonotic diseases?
Dr. Jay Tischendorf: I think many of these diseases or their vectors so for instance, mosquitoes are happy to see warming trends and perhaps the ability for them to expand their ranges. We had West Nile virus introduced probably through mosquitoes 10 or 15 years ago in New York City. That very rampantly spread nationwide. Down in South America, they had increasing issues with Yellow Fever. It is spread by mosquitoes. It seems to be an increasing issue as warming trends are continuing. I think a lot of these pathogens, they like heat, they like warm environments, tropical environments. Someone made a comment that they are a hotbed for infectious disease and make it more difficult in many places for the animals, the victims to fight off the disease. You have humidity issues, we are more at risk of unsanitary conditions, more difficult to keep a wound clean and dry for instance in a hot humid, tropical environment. That’s some potential there. Great question and very introspective and incisive question.
Audience Question: I travel across the world for animal cases. What vaccines would you recommend that I should be looking at or is there a list of vaccines that you can direct me to?
Dr. Jay Tischendorf: I’m not a human medical practitioner but my general rule of thumb would be to get yourself vaccinated against every legitimate disease that can be vaccinated against. A great person to consult or a great source of consult would be your public health department or perhaps even better a so-called travel doctor. There are some physicians and medical professionals out there who specialize in international travel and are very up to date in all of the different diseases based on the locale that you might be heading. I think that is a conversation well worth having. I appreciate your proactive approach to that. That’s awesome. I wish you well with your travels. Protect yourself as best as you can. Good hygiene too. A disinfectant as well. I’m a big fan of these alcohol-based sanitizers for the hands after they have been washed. You can’t sanitize on top of dirt remember. Also washing your hands, washing your hands, washing your hands.
Audience Question: With a puppy mill bust in an enclosed area where odor can be eye stingy, you have any thoughts of what kind of airborne zoonotic disease might be present?
Dr. Jay Tischendorf: Certainly you’ve got issues with potential pneumonia just a non-zoonotic disease but the ammonia fumes from the urine that can cause respiratory issues and eye problems, mucous membrane issues. Other issues potentially you can have aerosolized fecal parasites, those microscopic eggs if you’d had dried feces and now you are disturbing the environment, those very microscopic particles can be aerosolized, airborne, can be inhaled and certainly swallowed. That would be an issue. Having that facemask I described will be very worthwhile but then many of the respiratory pathogens, influenzas, Kennel cough, Bartonella. Not all of it is necessarily zoonotic but it can be transferred on animal to animal. It can get on your clothing then you become by default this vector that can take them back to your clinic or your shelter or even your own animals at home. Again, the use of personal protective equipment is really important. Again, understanding, you don’t necessarily have to know all the specific pathogens out there because there are so many of them but just those key routes of infection and taking steps to minimize that exposure through the skin, though ingestion, through inhalation.
Audience Question: Is the new variation of distemper that’s found in wildlife in New England the same as the Asian variety that was brought over by the dogs from North Korea? Both were recently on the news and are they already working on putting those variations on the vaccine cocktail? Do you know if that’s the case?
Dr. Jay Tischendorf: Apparently, we have at least one other geek in addition to myself. Great job keeping up with the current news. I think we’re still trying to figure things out with this distemper virus. At this point, to my knowledge and it’s a great question there has not been evidence that the dog vaccines are not working against that virus but certainly something to be aware of the potential that we may need to have to develop new canine vaccines for this virus. In the meantime, I besiege everybody, you know to maximize the appropriate use of our existing vaccines. Let us not second guess things and pull the cart before the horse. Let’s continue to use the very effective influenza, parvo and distemper vaccines we have, lepto, etcetera and maximized those. The other thing I would point out is most of the current dog vaccines that were actually based on the distemper strain that came from overseas, to begin with. My sense is that we’re probably well-protected. Let’s keep our finger on the pulse and see what happens. Great question. Reminder, infectious diseases are everywhere all the time and the news associated with it usually doesn’t get better. It gets worse. As an example of your day-to-day, there’s new stuff, new information emerging which is exciting and also little concerning.
Audience Question: Especially for the dogs that are in the so-called meat market, are they bringing in diseases that we are not necessarily used to here in States? If so, how long should we be quarantining them?
Dr. Jay Tischendorf: Great question. I didn’t mention it but influenza for instance, if you are familiar with that, the story on the human side, the CDC and other medical bodies send folks over to Asia every year to sample open-air markets and different sources to try to get a sense of what influenza strains might be an issue in this particular year. That’s what they then use to develop vaccines for that particular year. You’ve got the situation many places overseas where you have open-air markets where you’ve got incredible numbers of not just domestic animals including dogs and fowl but cats and other species. Then also incredible numbers of people. In many cases, these open-air markets are in crowded situations where there’s not great hygiene. Pathogens, infectious agents like influenza, this is just a soup, a pathogenic soup for them to come together. I mentioned the Spanish Flu. It was probably an avian flu that transmitted itself to swine or pigs and then also became infectious to people. You see the versatility and adaptability of some of these pathogens. That’s why areas where we have incredible densities of people and again our growing world population, poverty, global strifes, civil unrest, refugees, all that. Those are hotbeds potentially for the emergence of these infectious pathogens. H3N2 was a dog’s flu that hit Chicago back in the Spring break of 2015, probably stemmed from somewhere in Asia. We knew it was an avian flu that we knew that had infected some dogs overseas. Somewhere along the line, it probably got into somebody’s clothing. Perhaps a rescue dog that was imported to the US and introduced the pathogen. Hard to say how long to quarantine animals for. You have to be realistic. I can tell you that distemper which is very very common in many parts of the US can have an incubation period of perhaps over a month. I think very few facilities or vet clinics or public health departments have a month-long quarantine for animals. That’s an example. We’re sort of hedging our bets if we say we watched an animal for say 2 weeks or 10 days. If it’s not showing overt signs of disease, we tend to just decide that it’s healthy and proceed accordingly. Some of these pathogens can have a very long incubation period including rabies can be upwards of over a year depending on where the exposure bite occurred. It’s been documented on people and also fecal parasites. We can do a fecal analysis and come up empty. We don’t want anything on that particular essay but that doesn’t mean that animal is not carrying something. We just didn’t detect it. You can never really say an animal is completely negative of a parasite or a pathogen. There’s just no evidence it has that at this time, at this moment.
Audience Question: The import of Korean rescue dogs and the new flu they may bring has got a lot of attention lately as you were just talking about. Given a million dogs are imported into this country each year, how big is this threat from any particular country? Which federal agency is primarily responsible for screening these imported dogs?
Dr. Jay Tischendorf: Number one, I won’t point my finger nor could I in any one particular country or region necessarily that might be more apt to pass along infectious agents or animals with those infectious agents. You can pretty well look anywhere in the world and find your Rogues’ Gallery of agents out there, bacteria, virus, etcetera. Again tropical areas, areas of poverty tend to perhaps be more likely to have that but again it’s hard to generalize. The US Department of Agriculture typically oversees importation and exportation with health certificates and quarantine sometimes it’s a given state that may have its own policies. Hawaii, for instance, I think works in close conjunction with the US Department of Agriculture with its quarantine, things like that. Again maximizing our use of the quality vaccines we have today I think makes sense. Understanding that some animal might bring in some new influenza that’s contagious to dogs perhaps even cats. Right now we don’t necessarily have a vaccine for that. It only takes companies now anywhere from 6-12 months and perhaps even less to develop a vaccine for an influenza so there’s some hope that we might be able to get ahead of it before it gets spread too far. I am an advocate for getting as many animals today dogs at least we do have a good vaccine, getting those animals protected with the current vaccines we have for influenza just on the off chance that they might possibly protect that animal against that strain of perhaps even others if there might be some level of cross-protection as we are hoping to see with this new strain of distemper virus.
Audience Question: What is the most common infection that a typical person working in this profession really needs to pay attention to? Bottom line it for us. What should we be if we remember nothing else from your presentation, what should we be doing to protect ourselves?
Dr. Jay Tischendorf: I don’t want anybody turning in their resignation today, after this. Just want to create that awareness. It really depends on your particular occupation and the animals that you are working with. Are you in a shelter situation and there’s cats and dogs? Is it a large hoofstock? Again I can tell you that globally the most common zoonotic disease around the world is actually leptospirosis. That bacteria transmitted in the urine of carrier animals such as raccoons and wild canines and many other species as well. Not to say that’s the most common infection in animal care personnel but certainly, that’s one to be concerned about. Rabies obviously has that fatal prognosis. That would be one that would be very concerning. It’s really hard to generalize. I always go back to those big three routes of transmission. It doesn’t matter what the disease is but if we can protect ourselves against inhaled pathogens or infectious agents, ingested agents or injected or bite wounds I think you know we’re covering the basics. It really comes down to that disinfecting and cleaning our facilities on a very good, stringent, rigid, rigorous, regular basis. Good use of personal protective equipment and hand washing, personal hygiene to keep ourselves as safe as possible. I hope that helps.