I would like to thank Dr. Kazacos for providing excellent information about zoonotic illnesses from rabbits and other wildlife near a daycare facility ("Just Ask the Expert: The zoonotic threat of rabbits and other wild animals," July 2010). I would agree with everything he states but would respectfully add other zoonoses of concern.
Bubonic plague (caused by Yersinia pestis) is still seen in scattered rural areas in the United States. Reservoirs include chipmunks, prairie dogs, squirrels, mice, rats, and wild lagomorphs. Spread by fleas, plague continues to be a concern in rural areas, especially in the southwest U.S.
Lyme disease (caused by Borrelia burgdorferi) is spread by ticks from many animals. In addition to deer, Borrelia species has been transmitted via ticks from squirrels, hedgehogs, hares, and rabbits. Lyme disease is perhaps a greater risk to the community at large than is tularemia, which is more prevalent in hunters and landscapers.
Leptospirosis is a zoonotic risk not only in rural areas but also in urban and suburban areas. Seroprevalence studies indicate that a large number of rats carry leptospirosis. Any contact with urine from these rats, especially in the presence of skin wounds, is a significant risk for infection.
Murine typhus, a rickettsial infection, is common on the Gulf Coast of the U.S. If people's wounds get contaminated by rodent or opossum flea feces, typhus can result.
Finally, cestodiasis (from Hymenolepis nana, also known as Vampirolepis nana) is a concern, especially in daycare facilities. This tapeworm has both a direct and indirect life cycle. Definitive hosts that can lay infectious eggs include wild rodents, and the tapeworm uses some species of beetles as intermediate hosts. Ingestion of the eggs or intermediate hosts causes the infection in people.
A comprehensive list and discussion of potential zoonosis from rabbits and other wild animals could easily fill a book chapter or even an entire text. That said, I hope the additional information included in this letter will be of value to your readers.
Jeffrey L. Rhody, DVM
Lakeside Veterinary Center, LLC
8693 Cherry Lane
Laurel, MD 20707