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Zoonosis are diseases caused or spread by contact with animals. Every year, tens of thousands of Americans will get sick from diseases spread between animals and people. These are known as zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic means infectious diseases that are spread between animals and people.

Some animals, even those that look perfectly healthy, can carry harmful organisms that can make people sick. Those organisms that originate in animals can cause diseases in humans. Sometimes this process works the other way also, and organisms from humans can cause diseases in animals.


Zoonoses are common in the United States and around the world. In fact, as many as 60% of all communicable diseases and 75% of emerging infectious diseases of people originated with animals.

Causes of Zoonoses

Zoonotic diseases can be caused by bacteria, fungi, mycobacteria, parasites, viruses, and prions.


The zoonotic diseases can be transmitted from the animals to humans by many ways.

  • Direct contact: Contact with an animal’s body fluids, such as saliva, blood, urine, mucus, or feces, that can occur when petting or touching animals or being bitten or scratched.
    • Foodborne: Eating or drinking something unsafe (such as unpasteurized milk, undercooked meat or eggs, or raw fruits and vegetables) that are contaminated with feces from an infected animal.
  • Indirect contact: Contact with items in areas where animals live and roam or with objects or surfaces contaminated with germs. Examples include aquarium tank water; pet living areas, food bowls, and water dishes; chicken coops; plants, and soil.
    • Inhalation: Breathing in airborne organisms or spores.
    • Vectorborne: Being bitten by an infected tick or an insect (such as a mosquito or flea).

Examples of Zoonoses

Myriad zoonoses are known to exist. Here a few examples.

  • Rabies, which you can get from the bite of a rabid infected animal, often a raccoon, skunk, bat, or fox.
  • Anthrax, which you can get from contact with an infected animal or animal products (e.g., hides); sources include domestic and wild animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, antelope, and deer.
  • Dengue, malaria, Zika virus infection, and Lyme disease, which you can get from the bite of an infected mosquito in areas where those diseases are common.
  • Salmonella infection, which you can get after handling an infected baby chick, chicken, duck, turtle, or snake, or by eating contaminated food.
  • Escherichia coli infection, which you can catch by touching surfaces in areas such as petting zoos or dairy farms where some of the animals may be infected, or by eating contaminated food.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can become sick from a zoonotic disease, including healthy people. However, some people may be more at risk than others and should take steps to protect themselves or family members. These people are more likely than others to get really sick, and even die, from infection with certain diseases. These groups of people include:

  • Children younger than 5
  • Adults older than 65
  • People with weakened immune systems

Prevention of zoonosis

People can come into contact with animals in many places. This includes at home and away from home, in places like petting zoos, fairs, schools, stores, and parks. Insects, like mosquitoes and fleas, and ticks bite people and animals day and night. Thankfully, there are things you can do to protect yourself and your family from zoonotic diseases.

  • Keep hands clean. Washing your hands right after being around animals, even if you didn’t touch any animals, is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.
  • Always wash your hands after being around animals, even if you didn’t touch the animals.

Many germs are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. If clean, running water is not accessible, use soap and available water. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to clean hands. Because hand sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs, it is important to wash your hands as soon as soap and water are available.

  • Know the simple things you can do to stay safe around your pets.

Prevent bites from mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas.

  • Avoid bites and scratches from animals.

List of common Zoonotic diseases

Disease Organism Main reservoirs Usual mode of transmission to humans
Anthrax Bacillus anthracis livestock, wild animals, environment direct contact, ingestion, inhalation
Animal influenza Influenza A viruses pigs, other livestock, humans direct contact
Avian influenza Influenza A viruses poultry, ducks direct contact
Bovine tuberculosis Mycobacterium bovis cattle unpasteurised milk, exposure to tuberculous animals
Campylobacteriosis Campylobacter spp. poultry, farm animals direct animal contact, raw meat, milk
Cat scratch fever Bartonella henselae cats bite, scratch
Cowpox Cowpox virus rodents direct contact (usually with cats)
Cryptosporidiosis Cryptosporidium spp cattle, sheep, pets contaminated water, direct contact
Cysticercosis / Taeniasis Taenia spp. cattle, pigs raw/undercooked meat
Erysipeloid Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae pigs, fish, environment direct contact, fomites, environment
Fish tank / swimming pool granuloma Mycobacterium marinum fish contact with fish or contaminated water
Giardiasis Giardia spp humans, wildlife contaminated water, ingestion
Haemorrhagic colitis and haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) Shiga toxin-producing E. coli ruminants direct contact, foodborne
Hantavirus syndromes Hantaviruses rodents aerosolised excreta
Hepatitis E Hepatitis E virus pigs, wild boar, deer undercooked animal meats
Hydatid disease Echinococcus granulosus dogs, sheep ingestion of eggs excreted by dog
Leptospirosis Leptospira spp rodents, ruminants urine-contaminated water or direct contact
Listeriosis Listeria spp. cattle, sheep, soil dairy produce, meat products
Louping ill Louping ill virus sheep, grouse direct contact, tick bite
Lyme disease Borrelia burgdorferi ticks, rodents, deer, sheep, small mammals tick bite
Lymphocytic choriomeningitis Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) rodents direct contact
Orf Orf virus sheep, goats direct contact
Ovine chlamydiosis Chlamydia abortus sheep, farm animals direct contact, aerosol
Pasteurellosis Pasteurella spp dogs, cats, many mammals bite/scratch, direct contact
Psittacosis Chlamydia psittaci psittacine birds, poultry, ducks aerosol, direct contact
Q fever Coxiella burnetii cattle, sheep, goats, cats aerosol, direct contact, products of conception, fomites
Rabies Rabies virus and other lyssaviruses bats only in the UK Bite or scratch
Rat bite fever Streptobacillus moniliformis rats bite/scratch, milk, water
Ringworm Dermatophyte fungi many animal species direct contact
Salmonellosis Salmonella spp. poultry, farm animals direct animal contact, raw meat, other raw foods
Streptococcal sepsis Streptococcus suis pigs direct contact, meat
Streptococcal sepsis Streptococcus zooepidemicus horses direct contact
Toxocariasis Toxocara canis/catis dogs, cats ingestion
Toxoplasmosis Toxoplasma gondii cats, ruminants ingestion of faecal oocysts, meat
Zoonotic diphtheria Corynebacterium ulcerans cattle, farm animals, dogs direct contact, milk

2. Less common zoonotic diseases

Disease Organism Main reservoirs Usual mode of transmission to humans
Alveolar echinococcosis Echinococcus multilocularis foxes ingestion of eggs
Brucellosis Brucella spp. cattle, goats, sheep, pigs dairy products, milk
Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) CCHF virus livestock, ticks tick bite, direct contact animal blood
Ebola virus disease Ebola virus unknown, possibly bats wild animals
Glanders Burkholderia mallei horse, donkey, mule direct contact, contaminated fomites, food and water
Hendra virus infection Hendra virus fruit bats, horses exposure to body fluids
Kyasanur Forest disease Kyasanur Forest virus rodents, shrews, and monkeys tick bite, direct animal contact
Lassa fever Lassa virus multimammate rat direct or indirect contact with infected rodent excreta
Marburg virus disease Marburg virus bats bats
MERS MERS Coronavirus dromedary camels direct and indirect contact
Monkeypox Monkeypox virus rodents direct contact
Nipah virus infection Nipah virus fruit bats contaminated date palm sap, close contact with infected pigs
Plague Yersinia pestis rats and their fleas flea bite, scratches or bites from infected cats
Rabies Rabies virus and other lyssaviruses dogs, foxes, bats, cats Bite or scratch
Rift Valley fever Rift Valley fever virus cattle, goats, sheep direct contact, mosquito bite
Tickborne encephalitis Tickborne encephalitis virus rodents, small mammals, livestock tick bite, unpasteurised milk products
Trichinellosis Trichinella spiralis pigs, wild boar undercooked or raw meat
Tularemia Francisella tularensis rabbits, wild animals, ticks, direct contact, aerosol, ticks, inoculation
West Nile virus infection West Nile virus wild birds, mosquitoes mosquito bite
Yellow fever Yellow fever virus monkeys mosquito bite


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