Tuesday, December 1, was a global health day, a day set aside for people to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with it and commemorate people who have died of the disease.
In respect for this date, I am dedicating today’s piece to pet lovers who are living with HIV/AIDS.
Persons living with HIV/AIDS are encouraged to keep pets because they are loyal companions. Unlike humans, they will not display any attributes of discrimination or stigmatisation.
Pets can help people living with HIV/AIDS feel psychologically and physically better because they are fun to care for, and will not only provide entertainment and companionship, but will also be a source of comfort to persons living with a disease that often carries social discrimination and misunderstanding.
HIV/AIDS is peculiar to humans alone. It cannot be spread to, from, or by cats, dogs, birds or other pets. However, animals do have immunodeficiency viruses which are peculiar to them, and they exhibit similar symptoms like HIV/AIDS.
Examples of immunodeficiency viruses in animals are Feline Immunodeficiency Virus in cats, Bovine Immunodeficiency Virus in cattle; and Simian Immunodeficiency Virus in primates such as African green monkeys, Sooty mangabays, baboons and other guenons (aboreal African monkeys).
Persons living with HIV/AIDS should know the health implications of owning a pet and caring for animals, because these animals may be a reservoir of infection that can place a demand on their already compromised immune system.
Here are some precautions that should be taken by a person living with HIV/AIDS when handling pets or animals:
Always wash your hands well with antiseptic soap and warm water after playing with or caring for animals. This is especially important before eating or handling food. The reason is to prevent the ingestion of harmful bacteria that may cause serious infections.
Be careful about what your pets eat and drink. Feed them with only pet food or well-cooked home-made food. Don’t give pets’ raw or under-cooked food because raw food may contain microorganisms, such as bacterium, virus or fungus that will be ingested by your pets. Your pet then becomes a reservoir of infection that you can come in contact with, hence, further increase in the demand on an already compromised immune system in persons living with HIV/AIDS.
Do not bring home a pet until it has been examined and certified fit by a veterinary doctor.
Do not touch strange or stray animals, as you are not sure of the medical history of the pet. Also, when handling strange animals, your chance of being bitten or scratched is higher.
Be very cautious of animals that have diarrhoea, or their stool. For example, the protozoan (microorganism) called Toxoplasma gondii is sometimes found in cat feaces. Toxoplasma gondii can cause a life-threatening infection in a person with a compromised immune system. So, if you are living with HIV/AIDS and you to have to care for a cat, please ask someone who is not infected with HIV/AIDS and not pregnant to help you change the litter box daily. If you must change the litter box, wear protective vinyl or household cleaning gloves and immediately wash your hands well with antiseptic soap and warm water after changing litter boxes of cats.
Furthermore, keep pet nails clipped to prevent nail scratches. Pet owners living with HIV/AIDS need to be cautious of scratches from a cat, as this may result in a disease known as cat scratch fever or Teeny’s disease. This is an infectious disease caused by an inter-cellular bacterium known as Bartonella henselae. This infection shows clinical signs such as swelling of lymph nodes, fever and fatigue in humans. In persons living with HIV/AIDS, the disease can lead to serious complications.
If you are living with HIV/AIDS, do not give your pet a kiss and never let a pet lick wounds or open surfaces on your body, as they may introduce harmful microorganisms into the body. Avoid contact with exotic pets, especially if the animal is taken from its natural environment. Examples of exotic pets are snakes, lizards, turtles, etc.
Persons living with HIV/AIDS, who also work with or around animals, as in abattoirs, vet clinics, farms, etc., should take extra precautions and always use or wear personal protective gear such as coveralls, boots and gloves. Do not clean poultry droppings or touch young farm animals, especially if they have diarrhoea.
Persons living with HIV/AIDS should also be very careful in their choice of consumption of food from animal sources. Raw eggs, unpasteurised milk (Fura-de-nunu) and locally produced cheese (wara) should be avoided, as they may contain some harmful microorganisms that can cause gastroenteritis (diarrhoea).
Eating exotic animals — also called bush meat — and offals (entrails and internal organs of an animal used as food), especially those of the digestive system should be avoided, because they may contain a high load of bacteria which could be harmful to a person living with HIV/AIDS. Some common offals, popularly known as orisirisi are tripe, round-about, liver, tongue, etc. However, if you must partake of these delicacies, you will have to cook them properly or roast them till there are no traces of blood.