Safe practices to protect yourself from zoonotic diseases

23/03/2024

In our previous One Health article, we discussed several well-known zoonoses and their routes of infection. While it is almost impossible to know about every disease in existence, we can provide some helpful guidance to decrease the likelihood of becoming infected with many pathogens.

Keep your hands clean

One of the most important biosecurity measures at our disposal is handwashing. In addition to helping protect against zoonoses, it is also a useful measure to combat infectious diseases in general. Try to pay attention to how many times per day you touch your face, for instance do you chew on your finger nails? Do you stroke your face or chin while you think? We touch countless objects per day: door handles, pets, and raw food, for example. Washing our hands after interacting with the environment interrupts the pathway from the source to your body, preventing infection. This is especially important if you come in contact with animals or their body fluids, such as cleaning cat boxes or picking up after dogs. Animals obviously don’t have the same hygiene awareness as humans, which makes them an important source of infection, especially from bacteria and parasites.

Follow food safety measures

There are a few different pieces of advice to prevent infection that may come from food. Some meat, such as pork, chicken and mince (remember burgers!), should be cooked thoroughly. This can be particularly important when using a barbecue because the charred food might look cooked but this is not always the case. The main pathogens of concern for pork and chicken can infiltrate deeper layers of the meat, and the process of grinding beef to create mince causes surface bacteria to be mixed throughout the meat. Appropriate cooking ensures these pathogens don’t cause infection. As for steak, the middle does not necessarily need to be cooked thoroughly as the main pathogens of concern reside on the outer surface of the meat. Also, remember our first point after handling raw meat as well: wash your hands!  Additionally, washing your fruits, salads and vegetables before eating them can reduce the amount of pathogen that may be present due to environmental interaction or contact with fertiliser

Be vigilant if you are exposed to insects

Insect and arachnid vectors—such as mosquitoes or ticks—are another important source of zoonotic pathogens. If you take walks in tall grass or wooded areas, take care to wear tall socks and trousers that cover your legs. This helps prevent ticks from latching on as you pass by. Also remember to have a look over your body after being in these environments, especially in the natural folds in your skin. Ticks tend to be found in these folded areas, such as where your legs meet your torso. As mentioned in an earlier article in this series, ticks can spread Lyme disease, which can be a very debilitating illness.

Additionally, using insect repellents to prevent mosquitos or other insects from feeding can help interrupt the infection cycle of disease. These guidelines are especially important in tropical areas, where the insect population can be very high for a prolonged period of time and where the insects are well known vectors for disease.

There are many more measures we can take to prevent infection, such as utilising preventative vaccination and avoiding the ingestion of water from still or slow-moving sources, but the precautions mentioned above are easy and effective actions we can incorporate into our everyday lives.

In our next article we will be taking a dive into coronaviruses, so watch this space.

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