Zoonoses are diseases transferable between animals and humans. Zoonoses, or zoonotic diseases, have been recognized and studied for hundreds of years and remain a major concern for health and quality of life. Below are ten facts about zoonoses.

10 Important Facts About Zoonoses and Initiatives Against Them

  1. More than 200 zoonotic diseases have been identified. They are categorized by their causative pathogenic agent: bacteria, parasites, fungi and viruses.
  2. There are several ways that zoonotic diseases can spread. One method is through direct interaction with an infected animal or vector, such as a tick or mosquito. Direct contact occurs through bites, contact with fluids or excrements or even just petting an animal. Another means is through indirect contact. This is interacting with a medium such as soil, food or water that has been contaminated.
  3. Sixty percent of all human infectious diseases are considered zoonoses. An estimated 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases, which are infectious diseases that have been on the rise in recent decades, are transmitted from animals; examples include Ebola, HIV and influenza.
  4. The integrated effort to study interactions between animals, health and the environment is a field known as One Health. One Health examines the risks faced in both animal and human health, how they are influenced by their surrounding ecosystem and the resulting interactions that take place.
  5. Different zoonoses are more common in certain populations based on their typical interactions with livestock and the surrounding environment. Zoonotic diseases like trypanosome (sleeping sickness) and brucellosis, both of which are typically found in livestock, tend to occur in adults who occupationally engage with livestock. Often these individuals provide a great deal of support to their family, and the contraction of a zoonotic disease has serious effects, sometimes exacerbating the family’s poverty.
  6. The prevalence of zoonoses is not concentrated only in rural areas that rely on livestock or have unsanitary water; those living in urban slums also have a high risk of contracting a zoonotic disease due to the prevalence of animals that are not vaccinated or dewormed and unsanitary conditions. Because of the concentrated population and unsanitary living conditions in urban slums, those in urban poverty are also likely to contract multiple zoonotic diseases.
  7. Those in poverty are less likely to receive treatment for zoonoses. A large majority of the population that is at high risk for contracting zoonotic diseases lives in isolated rural areas far away from treatment facilities. Those in poverty often do not have access to diagnostic facilities or cannot afford the expense of laboratory work and tests necessary to diagnosis a zoonosis. Additionally, high-quality treatment for zoonoses are often expensive and in short supply; more affordable medication is often less effective and has serious side effects.
  8. One of the largest threats caused by zoonoses is food insecurity as a result of a loss of livestock due to disease and antimicrobial resistance. Antimicrobial resistance occurs in both animals and humans from the excessive or improper use of antimicrobial agents. Healthy animals are essential for the work and livelihood of millions of people around the globe as well as for food security.
  9. Addressing zoonoses is an essential component of global security. Eighty percent of agents that are deemed to have a potential for use in bioterrorism are zoonotic pathogens. The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) encourages strong health monitoring systems for proper surveillance and prevention of zoonotic pathogens from being used as weapons.
  10. The OIE has several initiatives to reduce zoonoses worldwide. In 2011 rinderpest was eradicated. Currently, the OIE is focused on stamping out of foot and mouth disease, rabies and peste des petits ruminants. They have also established the World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS), which allows for global transparency, quicker notification of infectious outbreaks and easier access to health experts. Currently, 114 countries have reports posted on WAHIS.

Zoonoses are an important public health issue that requires multidisciplinary collaboration and strong health care systems. While they disproportionately affect those in poverty, these 10 facts on zoonoses outline the far-reaching effects of these pathogens and their relevance in all populations. Advocating for further attention to zoonotic diseases is an important public health initiative.

Nicole Toomey

Photo: Flickr