According to the 26th edition of Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary, Zoonosis is "a disease of animals that may be transmitted to man under natural conditions (e.g., brucellosis, rabies)." As doctors who work with both animals and their human owners, veterinarians are an important source of information for zoonotic diseases.
When a veterinarian sees or suspects a zoonotic disease, it is the responsibility of the veterinarian to alert the owner of the potential for disease spread to humans.
Veterinarians can not offer a diagnosis or treatment for human owners, but must urge the owner to contact their human physician for consultation.
What Are Some Examples Of Zoonotic Diseases?
Zoonotic disease has a long history. Ancient Greece and the Bible mention the Plague. The number of potential zoonotic diseases today is impressive. We hear about Rabies, Ringworm, and Lyme disease, but many other diseases pose a threat to humans.
- Plague: Rodents, cats, rabbits, squirrels, related animals. A bacteria transmitted by fleas, aerosols, handling infected animals.
- Tuberculosis: Caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. What you need to know about this disease from the CDC.
- Cat Scratch Fever: Caused by a bacterium called Bartonella henselae. What you need to know about this disease from the CDC.
- Hantavirus: What you need to know about Hantaviruses from the CDC.
- Tick Paralysis (various animals affected): Requires the tick to be attached to the human — venom is released by the tick. This disease is classified under a broader definition of zoonotic diseases.
This is just to name a few of the 30 or so diseases transmissible from animals to humans.1 Disease incidence varies greatly with region, in the United States and around the world.
Who Is At Risk For Zoonotic Disease?
Any human in contact with an infected animal or disease vector. A vector is a disease carrier that spreads the disease from an infected animal to an uninfected human or animal (i.e. insect, rodent, etc.) Some humans are more at risk than others:
- Infants and small children — immature immune systems, poor hygiene — hands in mouth, etc.
- Pregnant women — immune systems are more susceptible and there are additional fetal hazards
- Elderly — immune systems may be impaired
- Immunocompromised people — undergoing cancer therapy, HIV/AIDS patients, etc.
- Veterinarians, zoo/wildlife/primate and other animal health care workers.
Where Can I Find More Information On Zoonotic Diseases?
Your pet's veterinarian is a good first source for information. Find out about the disease and most importantly, how to care for your animal and prevent spread to humans. Most Veterinarians have professional brochures and handout information on the common zoonotic diseases for your area
Public Health Department
Your state, county, or city health department is another good resource for information. You can find them listed in the blue pages of the phone book. The Center for Disease Control has a state-by-state data map for state-specific information.
1Reference: incidence of zoonotic diseases - Pets Risk Factor for MRSA