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Working Safely with Lab Animals

This document provides basic awareness to the potential occupational hazards associated with the use of laboratory animals and the need in some instances to take precautions to minimize the potential for animal-to-human zoonotic disease. Also of concern is possible disease transmission from human to animal.

Zoonosis: A disease that can be transmitted from animal to human.

Who is at risk for infection?

All laboratory personnel or others who routinely handle laboratory animals, animal tissues, and feces. Those subject to scratches or cuts involving laboratory animals or injuries from objects contaminated with body fluids or feces from the animals. Any such incident requires immediate first aid and or medical attention.

How Can I Protect Myself?

Gloves, masks and laboratory coats are standard personal protective equipment and should be provided and worn when working with laboratory animals in the animal suite. In some cases protective eye wear and or other dedicated protective clothing such as a scrub suit are indicated. The need for a higher level of protection must be evaluated and the equipment acquired before implementing the planned procedure. Do not eat, drink, or apply cosmetics while working in the animal suite, and always wash your hands after handling laboratory animals. Remember that unfixed tissues, body fluids, and other materials derived from Laboratory animals may pose a risk.

What to do incase of exposure.

Notify your supervisor or incase of principal researcher, notify department chair person or department health & safety committee and if necessary, the IACUC. Obtain first aid treatment or proceed to health center for a check up. Do complete and submit incident report form. Submit the employee incident report to Human resources and Student report to the Environmental Health and Safety Office.

For immediate life threatening injuries call for emergency assistance by dialing 911. Note, currently there is no animal facility on the CSB campus.

The following are examples of some common laboratory animals and associated zoonotic diseases.

Working Safely With Birds

Birds have diseases such as psittacosis and an avian form of tuberculosis. Only inspected, properly quarantined birds should be used in research studies or teaching demonstrations. Mycological fecal contamination is also frequent. The causative agents for some avian transmitted diseases are listed below.

  • Chlamydia psittaci
  • Histoplasma capsulatum
  • Cryptococcus neoformans
  • Mycobacterium avium

How are avian diseases spread?

Transmission to humans occurs by exposure via the inhalation route for the fungal infections (Histoplasma, Cryptococcus) due to inhaling spores. Contact with tissues through cuts or scratches may also pose a risk. Another route of exposure may be surface contact while handling avian fecal specimens. Guano (feces), hair and feathers may also exacerbate allergies.

Working Safely With Rabbits

Rabbits raised in "clean" facilities for laboratory use are considered relatively free of zoonotic diseases unless they have been experimentally or accidentally infected with a human pathogen. Use of such pathogenic organisms is currently NOT expected in CSB/SJU laboratories.

Note: those working with rabbits should also be aware of possible allergic reactions. These allergic reactions are often associated with cage cleaning due to the dust hazards of bedding and surface contact with urine and other waste materials. Remember that unfixed tissues, blood, serum, urine and other materials derived from rabbits may also pose a risk

The following are some of the potential illnesses associated with rabbits:

  • Bordetella
  • Pasteurella

Working Safely With Rodents

Rodents raised in "clean" facilities are considered relatively free of zoonotic diseases unless they have been experimentally or accidentally infected with a human pathogen. This is most acute when working with potentially immunocompromised rodents.

Note: those working with rodents should also be aware of possible allergic reactions. These allergic reactions are often associated with cage cleaning due to the dust hazards of bedding and surface contact with rodent urine proteins.

Wild rodents pose additional concerns. Wild-caught animals may act as carriers for such viruses as hantavirus and lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV) depending on where they were captured. Additionally, each rodent species may harbor their own range of bacterial diseases, such as tularemia and plague. These animals may also, have biting insect vectors which can act as a potential carrier of disease (mouse to human transmission).

The following lists some of the potential illnesses associated with rodents:

  • Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus (LCMV)
  • Hantaviruses
  • Tularemia
  • Plague

Working Safely With Felines

Bites and scratches may pose serious problems through trauma and/or bacterial infection. Cats may release microorganisms such as Salmonella and parasites such as Toxoplasma in the feces. Cage washers and any personnel who must clean bedding should wash hands with disinfectant hand soap before leaving the facility. Cats, like most mammals, can shed fur so anyone with allergies to fur, dander or animal bedding should wear personal protective clothing to minimize discomfort. Cats may also carry biting insects, such as fleas, so personal protective equipment should be used in this instance as well.

The following are some of the potential illnesses associated with cats:

  • Bartonella henselae (Cat Scratch Fever)
  • Rabies
  • Toxoplasma gondii

Working Safely With Canines

In most cases, dogs used in research have been vaccinated against rabies. However, it may be prudent to consider prophylactic immunization.

Bites and scratches may pose serious problems through trauma and/or bacterial infection. Dogs may also have enteric bacteria such as Salmonella released in the feces. Cage washers and any personnel who must clean bedding should wash hands with disinfectant hand soap before leaving the facility. Dogs, like most mammals, can shed fur so anyone with allergies to fur, dander or animal bedding should wear personal protective clothing to minimize discomfort. Dogs may also carry biting insects, such as fleas, so personal protective equipment may also be used in this instance as well.

The following are some of the potential illnesses associated with dogs:

  • Brucella canis
  • Campylobacter jejuni
  • Rabies

Resources

The following references provide additional, detailed information.

  • Biosafety program - Biology department (CSB/SJU)
  • Institutional Animal Use and Care Committee (IACUC) guidelines (2002 edition)
  • Animal Welfare Act (AWA)
  • Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (AMPHIS) 
  • National Institute of Health (NIH)