Recently, I read an article suggesting that one of the leading causes of deaths among children in rural Cambodia is due to diarrhoea. It shocked me greatly. Unfortunately, the article did not specify the underlying causes, illnesses or diseases associated with it, but given that I work with animals in a clinical environment, I see how easily the zoonotic pathogens are transmitted to humans.
I cannot help but wonder how much of those needless deaths are partially instigated by undetected and untreated gastrointestinal parasites of zoonotic origin. In fact, it was only when I started working with animals that I realised the real significance of how closely animals and humans are interlinked and interdependent in their coexistence, especially when it comes to our health and well-being. And our consistent awareness of these matters cannot be overstated.
Today, I would like to look at few important issues – gastrointestinal zoonotic parasites and prevention for both animals and humans: how important, simple and yet, completely misunderstood and neglected it remains, at least, here in Cambodia.
First, let’s take a look at few core definitions. According to Pasteur Institute of Cambodia “a zoonosis is an animal disease, due to bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi that can be transmitted to humans, when animal or human are in contact.” According to World Health Organization and World Organization for Animal Health, it is estimated that over 80 percent of all emerging and existent infectious diseases of humans are of animal origin.
It is for that reason, in the beginning of the 2000s a “One Health” concept was finally introduced. It is grown to become a fundamental framework and a collaborative global approach to understanding risks for human and animal health in order to treat and prevent them.
In short, the One Health framework states that “human health and animal health are interdependent and bound to the health of the ecosystems in which they exist…Controlling zoonotic pathogens at their animal source – that is, pathogens that can be transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa – is the most effective and economic way of protecting people… Consequently, global strategies to prevent and control pathogens must be developed if we are to protect public health. These should be coordinated at the human–animal–ecosystems interface and applied at the national, regional and global levels, through the implementation of appropriate policies.” In other words, protecting people means protecting animals and vice versa.
What does all that mean to us here in Cambodia? To small farmers, pet owners, pet shops, animal rescuers, people who live with animals, or those people living in pagodas surrounded by hundreds of street animals? While I cannot possibly include all zoonotic diseases and their prevention in one small article, I do want to concentrate on the simple, yet most overlooked one: gastrointestinal parasites.
There is little information available on gastrointestinal parasites of zoonotic significance in Cambodia. One smaller study carried out in 2011 on potentially zoonotic gastrointestinal parasites in domestic animals suggested that hookworms were the most common zoonotic parasite found in dogs (80 percent of dogs that were studied were affected). Another study done in 2015 in Siem Reap hospital, among nearly1000 children who presented the symptoms of diarrhoea, anemia, and abdominal pain, found that almost 40 percent were infected with some form of zoonotic parasitic infestation such as hookworm, giardia, roundworm and threadworm.
Most of these parasites are very commonly found in dogs and cats. In our clinic, annual fecal exams and regular deworming for animals is an absolute standard practice of pet care. Furthermore, when an Animal Mama Team embarks on any projects with street animals, pagoda animals or animals and pets in poor neighborhoods, five pillars of meaningful stray animals’ action are always applied: core vaccinations, rabies vaccinations, spay/neuter, microchipping and always, deworming. It is a matter of logic and level of impact for us to ensure that the animal population numbers are controlled, remain healthy, are easily tracked and the two zoonotic diseases – rabies and gastrointestinal parasites are highlighted to protect both, animal and public health.
As such, when I speak about many responsibilities of pet shops, pet owners and animal rescuers in regards to the animals under their care, when I insist that a proper veterinary treatments of animals is the absolute must, I do not only speak on behalf of the animals. My concern and resentment is directed at those who refuse to adhere to regular deworming protocols of their animals and pets (whether you are a pet owner or a pet seller) because they are actively and needlessly putting public health – the wellbeing of the people and children around them – at serious risk.
Generally, the consensus is that all animals in Cambodia should be treated for gastrointestinal parasites at least once in 3 months (especially those going outside). Regular stool samples are extremely helpful to identify the types of parasites present and determine the appropriate course of treatment.
Your veterinarian should be able to take a sample and ensure that no parasites, needing special treatment or medical intervention is present. The stool samples are particularly important for those pet owners, whose animals are “indoor only”. In our practice we met few owners that do not wish to “overload” their pet with deworming medication. While I am a believer that in Cambodia only a solid systematic prevention is the way to a healthy life for both humans and animals, I suggest that those who want to make the deworming treatments longer than 3 months apart, take advantage of a regular fecal examination services at their vets.
In fact, I recommend a regular stool sample test regardless whether you do or do not deworm yourself or your animal. Deworming medications do not cover all possible parasites, the dosage may vary and you may miss other locally important intestinal parasites. To put it simply, it is a good idea to ensure that you and your pet companion are completely parasite free and treated appropriately if infection does occur – for instance, a single dose of mebendazole is unlikely to cure an infection with S. stercoralis and will not treat Cryptosporidium species or Giardia lamblia infections.
Finally, I also would like to mention the vital responsibility of veterinary practices, animal welfare organisations, the organisations working with rural or poor communities – where stray animals are in abundance – pet shops and farmers. All of you are responsible for the health of your families and employees: given that your human employees and beneficiaries are working and living closely with animals who are, more often than not, carrying some form of zoonotic parasite or disease. Not having an appropriate protocol for rabies vaccinations and deworming is a crime.
Employers of animal-related businesses and organisations must ensure that their employees remain healthy, strong and most importantly protected from the needless and easily preventable harm. The protocol at our Animal Mama Center is that without exception all employees are vaccinated for rabies and dewormed regularly.
Taking care of your own families, pets and employees is our foremost responsibility and it creates a ripple effect for the rest of the community.
Animal Mama® Animal Clinic & Welfare Centre provides a wide range of services for animals & pets: vet care, boarding, daycare, pet food & supplies, hydrotherapy, grooming and doggy play dates.
Please visit us at:
Villa #15, Street 500
Toul Tom Pong, Phnom Penh 12311