Listeria outbreak prompts renewed interest in zoonotic disease and preventative safety measures

By Lidja Gillmeister, DVM

Heavy media coverage surrounding the recent cantaloupe-borne listeria outbreak has led to significant concern over food storage and handling safety, as well as increased awareness regarding the importance of properly washing produce prior to consumption. According to


, dozens of people in 20 different states have been infected with the dangerous bacteria, and so far 18 individuals have died as a result. Prior to this summer’s outbreak, listeria was primarily associated with deli meats and cheeses, as opposed to produce. But what some may not realize is that listeriosis, the infection caused by the

listeria monocytogenes

bacterium, is in fact one of many risky zoonotic diseases – that is, diseases that originate in animals before being transferred to humans.

While serious and sometimes even fatal to humans, listeria is relatively rare in the grand scheme of zoonotic diseases. And while the utmost care should be taken to ensure clean, safe and contamination-free meats and produce, there are other measures that pet owners in particular can take to prevent the spread of more prevalent zoonotic diseases within their homes. Here in San Diego, some of the most common zoonotic parasites and diseases include:

  • Roundworms
  • Hookworms
  • Fleas
  • Salmonella
  • E.coli
  • Giardia
  • Leptospirosis
  • Toxoplasma
  • Ringworm
  • Tapeworm
  • Bartonellosis
  • Campylobacter
Many of these diseases, such as salmonella and e.coli, are spread by ingestion – the same way in which listeria bacteria infect humans. These and other conditions, including parasitic diseases like toxoplasmosis, can also spread when humans come into contact with contaminated pet feces and then accidentally consume the material by failing to wash their hands. Because many zoonotic diseases show few or very minor symptoms in animals and can survive in contaminated pet bedding, blankets and litter boxes, it can be difficult to know whether pets and humans are at risk – or whether, even after successful treatment, the possibility of contamination still exists within the home. Therefore, the first and most effective line of defense is to have all pets examined periodically by a local veterinarian to rule out zoonotic diseases – and to prescribe appropriate medication in the event of an infection.

Patient care and preventative education at the La Jolla Veterinary Hospital

At the

La Jolla Veterinary Hospital

, we prioritize the health and safety of our patients – and their families – above all else, and are passionate about educating pet owners to ensure the best possible preventative action and care. We recommend the following steps to help pet owners reduce the spread of zoonotic disease and minimize risk:
  • Wash hands before eating and after handling pets
  • Cover children’s sandboxes when not in use
  • Scoop litter boxes daily
  • Feed pets cooked or commercially processed diets as opposed to raw meats
  • Avoid letting pets lick faces, plates and eating utensils

As for routine veterinary care, the following steps can help us catch zoonotic diseases early – or even keep them from becoming an issue in the first place:

  • Schedule annual fecal screenings for pets to look for intestinal parasites
  • Keep rabies vaccines current
  • Invest in year-round flea and tick control
  • Seek veterinary care when your pet exhibits signs of illness
Our experienced veterinary professionals are well versed in the zoonotic diseases most common throughout the San Diego area, and can offer expert advice, diagnoses and prescriptions to serve each and every patient’s individual needs. To learn more or schedule an appointment, visit us online: