Baylor College of Medicine Health Brief

Can I get sick from my pet?


April 18, 2024

While we love having furry friends inside our homes, it's important to know the risks they can bring in from outside environments, including some that can make us sick. Before bringing a pet home, it's best to consider if having one is right for you.

Dr. Stacey Rose, an associate professor of infectious diseases and internal medicine, says that people with a weakened immune system should be more cautious about potential exposures introduced by pets.

"There is not necessarily a category of pets that are safe or unsafe, but it's important to remember where you're getting your pet from and also have some awareness of the different types of organisms that might be associated with different animals," Rose said.

She explains that household pets can harbor microorganisms that potentially harm those at risk. For example, toxoplasma, an organism found in cat feces, can lead to a higher risk of infection in pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems related to HIV or people who have had an organ transplant and take medications to suppress the immune system. Hookworms can spread through a dog's stool. Even reptiles can carry salmonella, which can spread to humans.

While there are many reasons why we should have pets, we must be aware of our immune systems and the potential risks. Read more here.

Driving safety for older adults

As we age, a variety of physical and cognitive issues can impair our ability to drive. Dr. Angela Catic, associate professor of medicine - geriatrics and palliative medicine shares safe driving tips for older drivers.

"Most older adults are more conscious of when they need to modify their driving than younger ones. Many will stop driving at night and even avoid rush hour and inclement weather," she said.

Catic suggests that older adults drive a car that is comfortable, which can vary depending on a person's size. While driving, she encourages older adults to focus solely on driving, making changes to the radio or temperature before leaving and pulling over to make changes if necessary.

If you or an older adult you know doesn't feel comfortable on the road, has "close calls" (almost accidents) or starts to get lost in familiar areas, it could be time to consider other transportation methods. Catic also recommends visiting a medical provider who can provide alternative ways to make driving easier and safer.

Read more of Dr. Catic's tips here.

Colonoscopies: the gold standard for screening

Colon cancer may not be as aggressive as stomach, lung or pancreatic cancer, but it is still important to undergo screening so it can be detected and treated earlier. Dr. Punam Parikh-Amin, assistant professor of surgery in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery, says that screenings are essential.

"A colonoscopy is the gold standard," she said. "With this screening, we look at the entire rectum and colon. If there are polyps and it is safe and possible to remove [them], we do so. Not all polyps are cancerous; some are pre-cancerous or completely benign, but most cancers begin as a polyp."

According to the American Cancer Society, patients at an average risk of colorectal cancer should start regular screening at age 45. If patients have a higher risk of colon cancer because of a family history of cancer or a family or personal history of polyps or inflammatory bowel disease, they should start screenings at age 40.

Most colon cancers are completely removed with surgery. After treatment, a patient will be monitored for five years before being considered in complete remission if they are cancer-free. There are follow-up tests that include a colonoscopy, bloodwork and a CT scan to make sure there is no cancer recurrence.

Read more about colonoscopies here.


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