By Jeckonia Otieno and Rawlings Otieno
You own a dog or a cat that you cherish so much that you let it sleep on your bed or you cuddle it many times? Be careful because you might unknowingly be picking up a disease from this very animal you love so much. You might end up spending more on medical services than necessary.
Domestic animals make up a great deal of human life. While some are kept for food, others are kept for other reasons like security or just as pets. However, in keeping animals, there is a likely chance that some diseases affecting them, can be transmitted to human beings. These are called the zoonotic diseases. A general term for diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people is zoonosis.
The pathogens may also be acquired with a diversity of animal hosts including wildlife, pets and domestic animals.
Medical experts say that human-to-human transmission has been demonstrated only for a limited number of zoonotic diseases. But now, shifts in forest cover, agricultural practices, mining and reservoirs are thought to be affecting the transmission of diseases from animals to humans.
According to the head of Zoonotic Disease Unit, Dr Stella Kiambi, zoonotic diseases are becoming common in Kenya, especially in the Rif Valley where people keep many herds of livestock. However, data on zoonoses has not routinely been captured, including the number of human deaths.
“The reason for this is because some zoonoses have symptoms similar to known human infectious like malaria, and are often diagnosed as such,” said Dr Kiambi.
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In Kenya, it is estimated that 1,000 cases of human rabies occur annually. Most of these people die because once symptoms of rabies occur, the mortality is nearly 100 per cent.
Dr Kiambi says the Government is now collecting data on zoonoses that will help to develop a strategy, to be implemented by the health ministry.
Zoonoses are endemic, epidemic prone, or both. Endemic zoonoses include brucellosis, rabies, anthrax cysticercosis, echinococcosis (hydatid disease), and worm infestations. Zoonoses, which cause epidemics, include viral haemorrhagic fevers like Rift Valley fever and yellow fever.
The most deadly disease in this category is anthrax. Anthrax is an acute disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Most forms of the disease are lethal, and it affects both humans and other animals.
While keeping domestic stock is an important source of rural livelihoods in Kenya, the veterinary medics warn that the animals may also expose the families who keep them to disease risks.
Statistics from the ministry of Public Health and Sanitation indicate that over the last three decades, more than 30 new human pathogens have been detected, with 75 per cent originating from the animals.
Majority of people have succumbed to death after consumption of the infected milk, meat or handling the infected animal without proper detectives.
Farmers and herders from the pastoralists’ communities are at a higher risk of contracting these diseases if not diagnosed early and treatment administered.
Dr Nzioki says that combating zoonotic diseases among human requires comprehensive approach between livestock keepers and those who handle them.
According to Livestock Development Minister, Mohamed Kuti, lack of adequate collaboration between human and animal health has affected the efficiency and effectiveness of controlling zoonotic diseases in the country.