This Science Hot Topic is based on a between-issue update article by Liz Sheffield for Biological Sciences Review (March 2019). Subscribe to Biological Sciences Review now – from just £40.

What Are Zoonoses?

Zoonoses are infectious diseases of animals that can be transmitted to humans. There are approximately 40 such diseases in the UK, varying from minor irritations to conditions that can prove fatal.

Toxoplasma gondii

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that commonly infects cats, and warns that it can cause serious health problems for babies born to mothers infected with the protozoan. The infection can also cause serious complications for people with compromised immune systems, such as those infected with HIV.

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Are Zoonoses A Public Health Risk?

“Toxoplasma might even kill as many people as malaria, or at least a million people a year,” warns Prolific Biologist Jaroslav Flegr, who has been working on this theory for decades.

This idea is supported in findings from neuroendocrinology researcher and author Robert Sapolsky, who reported that the toxoplasma parasite can make rats run towards their main predator – cats – and over-write their innate aversion to them.

This video shows rats attacking cats:

Read more about this in The Atlantic.

Pet Therapy

An analysis of 17 studies that investigate the impact of owning pets on their owners has found that they can help with conditions such as depression, PTSD, stress and loneliness, reported The Independent.

Pet therapy has also been found to:

  • Improve physical and mental health
  • Improve mood and factors like interpersonal interactions, social attention and behaviour
  • Reduce stress, lowering cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure
  • Help with self-reported fear and anxiety

Read more about pet therapy here.

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