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Cuddling your kitten is ok, so why isn't kissing your chicken?

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A cute baby chicken stands in her chicken coup.
A cute baby chicken stands in her chicken coup.

How your furry friends could make you sick

You know you can't resist looking at them: those videos starring adorable kittens or puppies, hatching eagle chicks, little ducklings, baby pandas. They show cute animals rolling around with infants, licking someone's face, or doing something unusual. You might even have seen CNN's report on an emotional support duck walking down the aisle of an airplane.

Why do these videos go viral? Maybe because "animals can melt the human heart, tickle the funny bone or bring us to tears," as the Associated Press explained last year.

They can also lure us into forgetting that not every animal is suited to be a pet or to be treated as one because some animals can carry germs that make people sick. Now don't get me wrong, I love animals as much as the next person, maybe even more. That's why I became a veterinarian and have many pets at home. But I'm also the mother of two young children, and I've dedicated my life to a career in curbing diseases that can be spread between animals and people (zoonoses). It's at the core of my job as the director of CDC's One Health Office in the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

As much as I love animals, I know that some--especially those frequently linked to outbreaks of human illness--are not the best animals to choose as pets. For example, a flock of chicks in your backyard may look like cute companions, but they also can carry Salmonella bacteria. Just in 2016, we've seen eight multistate outbreaks of human Salmonella infections linked to backyard chickens. This is the largest number ever recorded of illnesses in people linked to backyard poultry. Even healthy-looking chickens may carry germs that can make people very sick and contaminate areas where the birds live and roam, so it's important to take precautions.

Even worse, germs carried by animals can be life threatening to high-risk groups of people, including children younger than 5 years and people with weak immune systems.

Here are some ways germs from animals could make you sick:

  • Rinsing out your pet turtle or frog's aquarium or your hamster's cage in the kitchen sink can spread the germs from your pet's habitat to people who never touch the pet and lead to illness.
  • Saliva from your dog licking your face or allowing the goat in a petting zoo to eat out of your hand can infect you if those bacteria enter your body through your mouth, nose or open skin.
  • Eating undercooked meat or drinking unpasteurized milk contaminated with feces from the animal could give you Eschericha coli food poisoning.
  • Sometimes dry or raw pet food is contaminated with common germs like Salmonella or Listeria bacteria. If the kibble falls on the floor--the same floor your toddler crawls on--it could easily make your little one very ill.

These are reminders that human health is closely linked with animal health and the environment. About 6 of every 10 infectious diseases in the United States are spread by animals. It's important to know what risks animals can pose and take steps to prevent illness to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community.

The good news is you can enjoy your pets without getting sick. Learn more at http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/.

One Health is the collaborative effort of multiple disciplines -- working locally, nationally, and globally -- to make people, animals, and our environment as healthy as possible. It's not a new concept, but it has become more important in recent years as we work to combat animal-borne diseases, which make up 75 percent of today's emerging infectious diseases. CDC promotes the One Health approach by working with physicians, veterinarians, ecologists, and many others to monitor and control public health threats by learning about how diseases spread.

This is why we are part of the first annual global One Health Day Thursday, November 3.

One Health Day is a worldwide undertaking designed to engage as many people from many parts of the world to keep us all healthy. As the recent Ebola and Zika outbreaks remind us, an outbreak anywhere is just a plane ride away from where you live. Find more information at www.cdc.gov/onehealth.