What are Types of Zoonotic Disease Should we Train Volunteers about?

April 25, 2013

Animals in shelters are at greater risk of carrying zoonotic diseases because of many factors, often in part because animals enter shelters without having had vaccinations and consistent veterinary care.  Roaming on streets, contact with other infected animals, and lack of sanitary conditions all carry potential risks.  Training volunteers to notice and take action when they suspect that an animal is sick will decrease the risk of spreading these diseases to humans and other animals.

Shelters should include policies and procedures for volunteers to take notice of behaviors that may signal zoonotic diseases.  Making sure that volunteers understand what to look for and what to do about it will keep risks minimal to visitors, workers, and other animals.  Workers trained to notice scratching, skin lesions, open sores, loss of hair, and other skin-related problems may be able to detect problems such as sarcoptic mange and ringworm.  Parasites such as roundworm and giardia may be treated and the spread of the disease curbed dramatically if volunteers know to isolate an infected animal right away.  Quick treatment will prevent contamination of kennels, visitor rooms, and exam areas, and will alert other workers of the need for care in handling the infected animal before it becomes a threat to humans.

Proper sanitation and cleanliness are difficult in a shelter.  Being sure that workers are especially sensitive to animals that are sick will go a long way limiting the number of humans who handle the animal, as well as the exposure of healthy animals to the illness.  Protective clothing can keep sick animals from scratching workers, and protect the worker’s skin from infected lesions and parasites.  A procedure to notify other workers of the sick animal’s status will also help volunteers understand the need for cleanliness and isolation until the animal is properly treated and cleared.  Clearly no animal shelter wants to adopt out a sick animal, or expose an adopting family to an illness  It’s well worth the time and effort to have safety procedures in place.

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