People at Higher Risk for Illness from Animals

Anyone can get sick from germs animals can carry, but some people are more likely to get sick and have more serious illness. It’s important for people at increased risk to know how to stay healthy around animals. The following groups of people are at higher risk for getting seriously sick from germs animals can carry. These groups do not need to avoid all contact with animals but should be aware of animals that are more likely to spread germs, like rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and poultry.

Adults 65 and Older
Happy Senior Couple Sitting On Sofa With Dog

Older adults are more likely to get sick from germs some animals—even household pets—can carry, and their illness may be more severe than other people. As people age, their immune systems and organs don’t recognize and get rid of harmful germs as well as they once did. To stay healthy, older adults 65 and older should be aware of the increased risk of getting sick from certain animals (like rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and poultry )and should consider other animals as pets.

People with Weakened Immune Systems
Photo of a female mature  doctor with a protective face mask taking anamnesis from her mature patient

People with a weakened immune system have a higher risk of getting diseases from animals.  A weakened immune system can be caused by a genetic condition, an illness such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, or kidney disease, or a treatment such as an organ transplant or radiation therapy. In addition, some medicines can weaken the immune system, including steroids, cancer chemotherapy, and drugs used to treat autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis.  People with weakened immune systems should avoid contact with high-risk animals like rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and poultry and take extra precautions in caring for dogs, cats, birds, and fish to reduce the risk of getting sick.

Children Younger Than 5 Years Old
Ethnic kid girl playing with cat

Children younger than 5 years old are more likely to get sick from germs that animals can carry. This is because young children often touch surfaces that may be contaminated with animal feces (poop), and they are more likely to put their hands in their mouths. Young children are more likely to get a serious illness from germs that animals can carry because their immune systems are still developing. Young children should avoid contact with high-risk animals like reptiles, amphibians, backyard poultry, and rodents.

Pregnant People
Pregnant woman having video conference with her dog next to her

Pregnant people are more likely than other people to get sick from certain germs animals can carry. Pregnant people can pass germs and harmful bacteria to their unborn babies or to their babies during birth. Germs, bacteria and infections can cause serious illness, birth defects, and lifelong disabilities, such as hearing loss or learning problems. Pregnant people are at risk for toxoplasmosis, which can spread from cats, and lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), which can spread from some rodents.