I did quite a few talks on infectious diseases last year to staff members of our shelter partners. Why? Because that’s what shelters’ reality is about: since animals of usually unknown health status arrive on a daily basis, these environments are highly predisposed to face infectious threats. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right, so that’s why I definitely think this topic is of great importance for staff members and volunteers, who are not necessarily familiar with it.
Something interesting happened once. Before I started the talk, I was asked: “Are you going to touch on the R disease?”“Mmmm, I said, maybe… but only if you tell me what you mean!” (I’m French remember, so still need to figure out all the medical abbreviations used in English!!!). The staff who asked the question whispered “Ringworm… We don’t speak it too loud because, knock on wood, we never had an outbreak and really don’t want to deal with this!”
I totally got her point. Indeed, ringworm is one of those diseases any shelter fear to encounter.Keep in mind it has nothing to do with a worm infection (if I remember well, in ancient times Romans called it this way because they thought a worm caused the associated lesions). The disease is in fact due to a fungus (= dermatophyte) which will induce skin lesions in the infected animals.
Why do we fear it then in shelters? Because of its zoonotic potential, the cost of its treatment and the fact that, until eradication is complete, this might stop the adoptions. There are very good ressources online on this disease and I do recommend to have a look at them. The more you know about your enemies, the better!
I however thought it would be good to put into writing some essential points shelter staff should have in mind concerning this disease. Because, again, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Fact 1: We fear ringworm, true, but it is not as common as one might think. Its prevalence is approximately 2% of all animals presenting skin issues.
Fact 2: Ringworm takes many different forms in infected animals and cannot be diagnosed solely on clinical signs. Most common signs observed are: hair loss, scaling, crusting and variable pruritus.
Fact 3: Dogs, cats and any other mammals in the shelter (ferrets, mice, rats, hedgehogs,…) can be infected. The disease is however more often seen in the feline species.
Fact 4: Infections are more easily established in puppies, kittens, immunocompromised ( for instance cats with FelV/FIV) or old animals. Same goes for humans!
Fact 5: About its transmission: dermatophytes are spread between animals or to persons by direct contact between individuals… but not only! The infectious form (=spores) can remain in the environment as well: contact with contaminated material (brushes, collars) or via contaminated fomites have to be considered as well.
Fact 6: Contaminated material may remain infectious for up to 18 months in the environment.
Fact 7: Unfortunately, no need for a large amount of spores for infection to occur: at least 100 spores are required, and, within 2 hours after initial contact, adherence to the skin begins.
Fact 8: Clinical lesions will usually become visible 1 to 3 weeks post-infection
Fact 9: Dermal trauma facilitates development of infection.
Fact 10: Always look for flea infection in a ringworm suspect. Why? Because fleas are a frequent cofactor. By irritating the skin, they favor development of the disease.