Zoo veterinarians are often faced with the task of how to deal with situations in which a zoonotic disease agent is identified or suspected in one of their patients. The implications to the animal, its caretakers, the public, their institution, and themselves may quickly become overwhelming. Failure to respond properly can lead to unnecessary human and animal illness or overreaction to perceived risks. This presentation suggests a systematic process that zoo clinicians can follow when managing cases where a zoonotic disease agent has been identified or is highly suspected. For the purposes of this discussion, a zoonotic disease agent is one that can be transmitted directly from animals to humans and cause disease in humans.
When an animal is diagnosed with a confirmed or highly suspected zoonotic disease agent, several steps can be taken. First, notify key stakeholders in the institution including animal care supervisors and the employee health care provider. Provide a summary of the disease1 to animal care supervisors and remind employees to report signs and symptoms of zoonotic disease. Second, the animal care staff should be instructed to isolate the animal if appropriate considering the feasibility and risk. This is especially important in animal contact areas.2 This is a good opportunity to remind staff of the importance of proper hygiene and use of appropriate personal protective equipment. Third, instruct animal care staff on proper waste disposal, including contaminated bedding, to avoid spreading contamination. Follow local and regional regulations for disposal of biomedical wastes.3 Fourth, report the disease, if required, to local public health officials.4 It also may be useful to track zoonotic disease occurrences in your facility. Fifth, if indicated, treat the animal with appropriate antimicrobials and perform follow-up diagnostics as appropriate. Be sure to establish criteria for an end of isolation (e.g., test negative and/or clinically normal).
1. CDC zoonotic disease descriptions/fact sheets. www.cdc.gov/healthypets/
2. American Zoo and Aquarium Association. The Accreditation Standards and Related Policies. 2009:37–39. http://www.aza.org/Accreditation/Documents/AccredStandPol.pdf. (VIN editor: link was not accessible as of 1/6/2021.)
3. California Medical Waste Management Program website. www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CEH/DRSEM/Pages/EMB/MedicalWaste/MedicalWaste.aspx.
4. California Department of Food and Agriculture Table of Reportable Diseases. http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/AHFSS/Animal_Health/pdfs/CA_reportable_disease_list_05292002.pdf. (VIN editor: link was not accessible as of 1/6/2021.)