Blog Aims to Educate Public About Animal Health, Disease

May 22, 2008 - News Release

Ever wonder if it's possible to pass the flu onto the family dog and vice versa? Or whether cleaning out the cat box can make you ill? Or if it's safe to pick up bats?

Answers to these animal-related questions and more can now be found online via a new website created by researchers from the University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College.

Prof. Scott Weese and Maureen Anderson of the Department of Pathobiology have started a "Worms & Germs Blog" to educate people about zoonotic diseases — those that can be transmitted between animals and humans — as well as to provide general information about topics related to animal health and pet care.

"We felt there was a need for more accessible comprehensive and accurate information about zoonotic diseases," said Weese, adding that more than 70 per cent of new infectious diseases that threaten human health can be transmitted from animals to people.

"A lot of people are asking questions and looking for information, but at the same time, many people don't understand the concerns involved or are incorrectly blaming animals for infectious situations. This Blog is set up to both provide correct information and clear up misconceptions."

Weese and Anderson, a post-doctoral researcher who manages the site, post blogs every few days about timely topics related to the weather, season or current events. For example, recent blogs have discussed camping with dogs and tick awareness, rabies and bats, and horses and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. And with summer approaching, there is likely to be a Blog on the importance of proper hygiene at petting zoos to prevent the transmission of pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella.

Zoonotic diseases and companion animals such as dogs, cats, horses and household critters like gerbils and hamsters are the focus of the blogs. But the site also includes a "Resources" section with information sheets on everything from the basics of cleaning a cat litter box to how to care for a turtle to things to think about before getting a dog. There is also a space for people to write in with questions they'd like addressed.

All of the blogs and information sheets on the web page are created with help from veterinarians, physicians and public health personnel and researchers.

Weese stresses that the site is for education and information, not a place for people to go seeking specific medical advice for their pets. "We are not a health-care site, although we do address issues of general importance and interest that relate to the safety and health of pets."

The Blog evolved from a joint project between OVC's Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses and the City of Hamilton's Public Health Department. "There was an identified need for people to have a resource to go to for objective, easy-to-understand information and advice on matters that relate to public health and human interaction with animals," said Colleen Van Berkel, manager of planning and continuous improvement for Hamilton's Public Health Services.

Weese and Anderson initially received a grant from the Hamilton agency to develop information sheets about animals and public health issues. "We wanted to find a way to get the information out to as broad an audience as possible, and the idea of putting it online made sense," Weese said. "We came up with the Blog to complement the information sheets and provide comprehensive, accessible and readable educational materials and resources."

OVC's Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses brings together scientists to enhance research and more closely link researchers and agencies involved in addressing new or re-emerging diseases such as bird flu, SARS, E. coli 0157:H7 and West Nile virus. The goal is to prevent and control emerging animal-related diseases that threaten public health.

The Worms & Germs Blog can be found online at:

Prof. Scott Weese
Department of Pathobiology
519 824-4120, Ext. 54064

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982 or

University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1