The Chinese Zodiac is based on the lunar calendar, assigning an animal and its reputed attributes to each year in a repeating twelve-year cycle. On the 1st of February 2022 begins the Year of the Tiger, and to honour the Chinese New Year, we would like to share a contrasting perspective to six out of the twelve animals by highlighting their believed attributes in the microbiology world.
Pig – Leptospira
According to the myths, the pig was the last to arrive when the Jade Emperor called for the great meeting. The pig has the characteristics to think logically and is a symbol of wealth, but is not good at communicating.
When it comes to bacteria, some pigs carry Leptospira, a genus of bacterium that can cause a disease called Leptospirosis (or Weil’s disease). Pigs can pass on the bacteria in their urine, which can lead to human infection. Besides bacteria, pigs can also be carriers of viruses. Particularly well-known is swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus, which is a strain of an influenza virus that started in pigs but can be spread to humans.
To avoid contracting an illness, only drink clean and safe water and keep your personal hygiene high.
Dog – C. canimorsus
Dogs are characterised as being conservative, full of justice and loyalty – making for an overall good companion.
Some may say a dog is a human’s best friend, but did you know C. canimorsus is a bacterium that is commonly found in the mouths of dogs, which does not affect the animal but can cause disease in humans. Handling your dog’s toys might not seem like a big deal, however with the number of bacteria present in their mouths, it is worth regularly cleaning their toys and washing your hands.
Rooster – Campylobacter
Roosters sense what other people are thinking or feeling, have quick reactions and are known to protect against evil spirits.
Whilst the living animal is filled with positive energy, it becomes rather sensitive to handle when entering our food chain. The Campylobacter genus of bacteria is the most common source of food poisoning in the UK and is spread by contact with undercooked poultry and untreated water. Infection can occur from handling raw or undercooked meat and from cross-contamination. To prevent contamination, proper hygiene standards are needed when cooking raw meat.
Dragon – Komodo dragon
The mystical dragon conjures up a myriad of images, and the Zodiac’s characteristics don’t fall short. Dragons are said to be full of adventure and ambition, and they represent royalty.
It was believed that the Komodo dragon, a species of lizard found on Indonesian islands, used the bacteria in its saliva to kill its prey by transferring the bacteria to the victim’s wounds, causing lethal infection. This has since proven not to be true.
Instead, it was confirmed that the same bacteria found in the Komodo dragon’s mouth were also present in the same contaminated water that its prey, the water buffalo, drank from. The Komodo dragon simply had bacteria in its saliva from the water it drank and also from what it has previously eaten. The water buffalos end up dying from the pathogenic bacteria found in said water entering wounds caused by the Komodo dragon, which may have led people to believe that the Komodo dragon’s saliva was lethal to the buffalos.
Rabbit – Francisella tularensis
The Rabbit is associated with being patient and intelligent. The ancient Chinese also believed that there was a rabbit living on the Moon.
Tularemia is a bacterial disease caused by Francisella tularensis and is commonly found in rabbits and hares. People and rabbits can become ill from this if they come into contact with infected animals and contaminated raw meat. Rabbits can also carry a bacterium called Yersinia enterocolitica, which causes the disease Yersiniosis leading to fever and abdominal pain. This can also be spread from infected people or animals that have come into contact with infected rabbits and also from other animals.
Good overall hygiene precautions, such as regular handwashing when caring for rabbits, and the upkeep of good cleaning routines when handling raw meat in the food industry can help prevent cross-contamination.
Rat – Streptobacillus moniliformis and Spirillum minus
Last but certainly not least is the rat, which in fact is the first animal in the Chinese Zodiac. The characteristics of the rat are flexibility and vitality.
Despite these positive characteristics, rodents, and in particular rats, can carry a wide variety of disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Rats can be the cause for many types of diseases such as rat-bite fever and Weil’s disease. Rat-bite fever is an infectious disease and is caused by the bacteria Streptobacillus moniliformis and Spirillum minus. People can become infected after coming into contact with the rodents that carry the bacteria. Weil’s disease can also be contracted through water contaminated with rat’s urine that contains the pathogenic bacteria.
To reduce your chances of picking up any unwanted microbes, it’s best to stay as clean as possible by having good overall hygiene and frequent handwashing habits using plenty of soap and water.
From us here at BioLabTests, we wish you all a happy Chinese New Year!