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Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14(12), 1526; doi:10.3390/ijerph14121526

Pets, Purity and Pollution: Why Conventional Models of Disease Transmission Do Not Work for Pet Rat Owners

1
Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, Institute of Infection and Global Health, School of Veterinary Science, University of Liverpool, Leahurst Campus, Neston CH64 7TE, UK
2
NIHR Health Protection Research Unit, University of Liverpool, Ronald Ross Building, Liverpool L69 7BE, UK
3
Health Services Research Department, Institute of Psychology Health and Society, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3GL, UK
4
Department of Public Health & Policy, Institute of Psychology Health and Society, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3GL, UK
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 2 November 2017 / Revised: 2 December 2017 / Accepted: 2 December 2017 / Published: 7 December 2017
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Abstract

In the United Kingdom, following the emergence of Seoul hantavirus in pet rat owners in 2012, public health authorities tried to communicate the risk of this zoonotic disease, but had limited success. To explore this lack of engagement with health advice, we conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with pet rat owners and analysed them using a grounded theory approach. The findings from these interviews suggest that rat owners construct their pets as different from wild rats, and by elevating the rat to the status of a pet, the powerful associations that rats have with dirt and disease are removed. Removing the rat from the contaminated outside world moves their pet rat from being ‘out of place’ to ‘in place’. A concept of ‘bounded purity’ keeps the rat protected within the home, allowing owners to interact with their pet, safe in the knowledge that it is clean and disease-free. Additionally, owners constructed a ‘hierarchy of purity’ for their pets, and it is on this structure of disease and risk that owners base their behaviour, not conventional biomedical models of disease. View Full-Text
Keywords: emerging zoonotic infection; Seoul hantavirus; human-animal interaction; Mary Douglas; risk; social constructionism emerging zoonotic infection; Seoul hantavirus; human-animal interaction; Mary Douglas; risk; social constructionism
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Robin, C.; Perkins, E.; Watkins, F.; Christley, R. Pets, Purity and Pollution: Why Conventional Models of Disease Transmission Do Not Work for Pet Rat Owners. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14, 1526.

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