Viruses will always be a concern

Published 8:03 am Saturday, August 15, 2020

It seems that the social anxiety level has risen with the proposed plans to head back to school. Some are worried about the transmission of disease, some are worried about childcare and some are worried about masks or social interaction in the new rules.

Different diseases transmit different ways, but any way you look at it, there is a fair amount of stress.

Diseases are generally caused by bacteria, viruses, fungus or parasites. External parasites or ectoparasites (think fleas and lice) usually have the simplest mood of transmission. Mom and dad flea get together and lay eggs. These eggs hatch on or off the body and the baby critters find their host if they were laid off the body and grow up. After they are grown, they find a mate and start over again.

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Ticks are a form of ectoparasites that go through several molts and have a different host as they grow in stages. A seed or larval tick may feed on a mouse or vole. A larger tick may feed on a dog, deer or human. When they feed, they ingest the host’s blood and sometimes disease of the host which they can pass on to the new host.

Internal parasites (think worms) usually reproduce with an intermediate host. Tapeworm eggs are eaten by a flea or a mouse (intermediate host) and then the intermediate host is eaten by the host and then hatches into the worm. Roundworms tend to migrate through the intermediate host’s spinal tissue and brain and cause the intermediate host to be more likely to be caught and eaten by the host.

Bacteria are small single cell organisms that divide in two to reproduce. There are some forms of bacteria that form spores which can last years in the environment, but most bacteria like a little moisture to live. Typically to catch a bacterial disease, you have to get it in a cut, mucous membranes or eat it.

Viruses are even smaller DNA packets. They cannot grow or reproduce by themselves. However, since they doing have to have food processing or reproducing parts they tend to be more stable outside the host. Statistically, they are more stable in heat, cold or dry.

Although there are some special bacteria that live in very extreme conditions. Viruses are so small that they tend to get through the host defenses more often than bacteria, but you tend to breathe them in, get it in a cut, allow it to burrow though mucous membranes or eat it.

How you avoid the disease producer depends a lot on what you are trying to avoid. Ectoparasites are typically avoided by avoiding the hosts that have them. If your dog is not around other pets with fleas or lice, it is unlikely that they will get them.

Feces is a great transmitter of parasites, viruses, bacteria and a few funguses. You ask: “Who would eat poop?” Remember that these are microscopic.

Under a single short fingernail, you could have hundreds of parasite eggs, thousands of bacteria or even more virus particles. A long or acrylic nail harbors even more.

Every time we touch our mouth, scratch our eyes or nose, some of those bacteria stay behind. Because we are talking microscopic and long lived, the poop can be long washed away and the bacteria, virus or parasites remain. Raccoon poop is a classic where the seed filled poop is pooped and the poop is washed away leaving the seeds and parasite eggs. Critters come and eat the seeds and have the eggs. It doesn’t end well for the critters. Eating clean or cooked meats and veggies usually removes or kills the parasites, bacteria or viruses.

That is one of the reasons that the CDC recommends frequent hand washing to prevent the spread of disease. We recommend that all dog and cat poop be picked up and thrown in the trash that goes away or is completely burned. Leaving the rain to deal with it means there can be lots of contaminants on the ground and grass.

Because we and our pets carry particles everywhere, all surfaces are ultimately contaminated. Cleaning and disinfecting is necessary to control the numbers of infectious particles.

It really is a numbers game. If a pup is exposed to a very small amount of parvovirus particles (fecal to oral transmission), it may not get sick or may not be very sick. The same applies for airborne transmission. If a raccoon with distemper walks through the back yard and leaves, the dog is less likely to get it than if the dog and the raccoon share a food bowl that is left on the porch.

Likewise, if we are exposed to a small amount of corona virus, we may build some immunity. If we inhale a bunch over a period of time, we may be very sick.

All of these common things will be considered as young folks head back to school — environmental contamination, aerosol transmission and the number or students with the amount of time they spend with each other must be taken into account.

I’m staying in and staying safe and doing my best to educate and limit transmission, but even I can tell that folks are quite concerned.

My daughter desperately wants to be back on campus for a normal senior year and is stressed as that gets pushed back farther and farther. Online is nowhere near the same as a concerned, caring, competent teacher.

Even hybrid setups have issues, but serious disease transmission is not ideal either. Wanting something that cannot be causes stress.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. 606-928-6566.