Health: Cuddle with Care

Forget about bird flu or SARS--you're much more likely to get sick from a pet

Deadly diseases that cross the species barrier and infect humans--like bird flu and SARS--make big headlines these days. But if you're really worried about getting an animal disease, you need look no farther than the fluffball curled up on your pillow. Cats, dogs, hamsters and snakes are breeding grounds for all sorts of microbes and swap molecules with us regularly. Our pets share our air, furniture and food dishes. We change their litter, enjoy their slobbery affection and endure their occasional bites.

Of the 1,400 or so recognized human pathogens, 61% are classified as zoonotic, or naturally communicable between animals...

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