Everyone knows fleas suck. But is your vet doing everything he or she can to inform you of the dangers of parasitic infections to your pets and other household inhabitants? Maybe. Maybe not.
Though diseases spread by fleas are relatively uncommon in the US’s people population, they’re out there. The spread of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes Plague happens via fleas that jump from rodents and often onto pets before infecting humans. Cat scratch fever, another bacterial infection, can also be transmitted through the bite of a flea.
Then there’s the possibility of allergic reactions and tapeworms. Though flea bite reactions are usually self-limiting and merely itchy, some humans’ immune systems respond with painful boils. Tapeworms––believe it or not––can spread to humans via fleas should you ingest one (though I recommend you not try this at home). Luckily, these are NOT the tapeworms that’ll eat all your ingested nutrients and result in dramatic weight loss. But you WILL be sharing a dewormer with your pets if you get them.
Next up, the dreaded tick. Everyone knows about Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. ‘Nuff said, right?
These are all insidious diseases no one needs to suffer. Not if basic prevention regimens are adhered to. Not when the most powerful anti-parasitic tools in human history come in a box––usually without a prescription. But is veterinary medicine doing enough to observe its oath to minister to public health? Arguably, the answer is a resounding “NO!”
In light of the shift in veterinary medicine to the care of individuals over populations (consider the rise in radiation therapy and the backlash against rabies vaccines, think on the widespread use of antibiotics in poultry and the pending legislation against it), some public health officials worry that veterinary medicine is ignoring some of the most basic tenets with respect to protecting humans from zoonotic diseases (these are diseases that spread from animals to humans). At least when it comes to companion animal medicine.
Given the state of parasitic affairs, some contend, veterinarians have to work harder to protect the public by protecting their patients. Climate change, the increasing mobility of pets, closer pet-keeping standards (pets in bed, for example) and human encroachment into wildlife-friendly zones are increasing our risk of zoonotic disease infected flea and tick exposure.
It’s possible that a perfect storm is brewing in the world of pet parasites some CDC officials fear. And veterinarians are on the front lines of flea and tick prevention. Not only is prevention best for people and pets, they say, it’s also in our best financial interest to tackle fleas and ticks with more aggressive tactics.
Not only does this include the sale of products hand over fist, it also includes testing for the diseases these critters can carry. To that end, I’m lobbying hard to amend my hospital’s bloodwork protocol. Ehrlichia and Lyme testing should come with all my basic annual panels, I say. Same as for heartworm. After all, I see more ehrlichiosis than I do heartworm these days.
Granted, 80% to 90% of my canine patients get regular heartworm preventatives, compared to only about 30% to 40% for the flea and tick stuff. But then, the risks of flea and tick prevention are greater than their benefits in some cases. (Not that everyone agrees with me.) That’s why I tend to reserve these products for treatment rather than prevention and prefer to focus more on disease screening by way of protecting public health.
So you tell me: Am I NOT doing enough for public health when I side with individual pet health over what MAY be best for humankind at large? Am I denying the public the duties required by my oath in so doing? Here’s your chance to have your say...