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Eur J Oncol Nurs. 2006 Apr;10(2):117-27. Epub 2006 Apr 3.

Pet ownership in immunocompromised children--a review of the literature and survey of existing guidelines.

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Oncology Unit, Royal Liverpool Children's NHS Trust, Eaton Road, Liverpool, UK.


Pet ownership has been associated with both emotional and physical health benefits. However, owning pets may also pose health risks to immunocompromised patients through zoonotic transmission of disease. Our initial impression was that there is a lack of any evidence base in information given by health care professionals regarding these risks. We therefore aimed to produce evidence-based guidelines addressing this issue. A Pubmed search was undertaken and a variety of literature on zoonoses reviewed. Existing guidelines were evaluated and a survey of all Paediatric Oncology Centres in the UK performed. There is a paucity of level 1 and 2 data addressing this issue and clearly more studies, particularly Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs), are required. Nevertheless, general themes emerged and certain specific guidance was produced based on that produced by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US. Animal-associated pathogens of concern include Toxoplasma gondii, Cryptosporidium spp., Salmonella spp., Campylobacter spp., Giardia lamblia, Rhodococcus equi, Bartonella spp., Bordetella bronchiseptica, Chlamydia psittaci and dermatophytes. Despite this, the literature would suggest that with the exception of Bartonella henselae and dermatophytes only a relatively small number of infections in people are likely to be associated with pet contact. The majority of pet species do not appear to pose a major risk to immunocompromised children. Some animals, particularly reptiles, should be avoided because of the high risk of salmonellosis. Guidelines include general advice on good hygiene practices, veterinary care, pet foods, purchasing of new pets and age restrictions. Health care professionals should actively enquire about household pets and provide accurate information and practical advice on how to minimise the risk of infection. However, the overall benefits of the human-animal bond must be considered and with proper handling and husbandry immunocompromised patients should be able to continue to enjoy the significant benefits of pet ownership.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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