Zoonotic Infections, Bites, and Allergies

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Although the literature on animal assisted therapy suggests that there are numerous health benefits associated with having animals in various health care settings (i.e. nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospitals), there are also various risks that could arise (Brodie, Biley, & Shewring, 2002). Some of the most worrisome potential risks include: zoonotic infections (zoonoses), allergies, and bites. Understandably, the elder population is at an increased risk of contracting infections or having an allergic reaction to animals due to their frail immune systems (Owen, 2001, Brodie, Biley, & Shewring, 2002). The possibility of an elder contracting an infection is also increased in areas where the disease can easily be spread (i.e. assisted living facilities or hospital units) (Brodie, Biley, & Shewring, 2002). Fortunately, assisted living facilities recognize these health risks and do their best to provide a safe, healthy environment for residents to interact with the animals (Owen, 2001).
One of the most prominent fears discussed by assisted living facility staff and residents, in regards to animal assisted therapy programs, is the spread of disease from animals to humans (Brodie, Biley, & Shewring, 2002, Hooker et al., 2002). Diseases transmitted from animal to human are known as zoonotic diseases or zoonoses (Brodie, Biley, & Shewring, 2002, Hooker et al., 2002). Generally speaking, most of the 200 different varieties of zoonoses come from bacteria salmonella, toxocara (worms), parasites, and viruses (Owen, 2001). In order to prevent zoonotic infections, researchers and health care officials recommend that assisted living facilities have strict prototcols relating to their animal assistance programs (Hooker et al., 2...

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...allergic reaction by limiting the use of cats, guinea pigs, and horses in animal assisted therapy as these animals are considered highly allergenic (Brodie, Biley, & Shewring, 2002).
A final drawback associated with animal assisted therapy is animal induced accidents or bites (Brodie, Biley, & Shewring, 2002). In terms of seriousness and frequency, bites from animals are considered the most problematic (Brodie, Biley, & Shewring, 2002). Unfortunately, prevention for this type of issue is limited. One recommendation often highlighted by researchers to curb instances of animal biting is obedience training (Brodie, Biley, & Shewring, 2002). If obedience training is too costly, assisted living facilities should avoid choosing aggressive breeds and develop protocol for residents and staff in regards to the handling of the animals (Brodie, Biley, & Shewring, 2002).
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