When work makes you sick

Sick over work—literally? Whether you only pick up the occasional pet mess or you're in the back treating animals every day, you need to know how to control zoonoses.
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Jun 01, 2013
By dvm360.com staff

Coughing, sniffling and sneezing just might earn you a few dirty looks from coworkers who want to avoid falling ill with the creeping crud every time it sneaks into your office. And it's true that during cold and flu season, viruses and bacteria spread via indirect and direct contact and aerosol exposure such as sneezing. But in veterinary hospitals, we deal with another culprit that may occur year-round: the pathogens that can spread from our patients to us.

What's more concerning is that we're often way more lax than human hospitals when it comes to protecting ourselves from the spread of these diseases from our patients. We don't wear gloves as frequently as we should, and we've likely all witnessed a dental prophylaxis being performed with a face mask and gloves but no protective eye wear—and maybe even without the mask and gloves. Controlling zoonotic exposure in veterinary practices depends on an understanding of routes of transmission, personal protective equipment available and common zoonoses seen in the hospital. It also depends on conscientious employees with a goal of protecting themselves and others from unnecessary exposure to pathogens.

Understand routes of transmission

The first step in protecting yourself from zoonotic disease is to be aware of the three main means of transmission for various hosts: aerosol, vector-borne and contact. Aerosol transmission usually occurs through coughing and sneezing and can be generated via procedures such as suction or bronchoscopy. Vector-borne transmission can occur via vectors such as mosquitoes, fleas and ticks. Within the hospital, it's more common that we come into contact with fleas or ticks on animals that are infested. Contact may occur directly through examining, bathing or handling animals, or indirectly through contaminated items such as cages, soiled laundry or equipment.1