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Zoonosis facts for kids

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Burying Plague Victims of Tournai
The bubonic plague, a zoonotic disease, killed one-third of Europe's population in the 1300s. This painting from The Chronicles of Gilles Li Muisis show people burying plague victims

Zoonosis or a zoonotic disease is an infectious disease which an animal can give to a human. These diseases may be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites.

Zoonotic diseases are very common. About 60% of all infectious diseases in humans are spread by animals.

Zoonotic diseases can be spread in different ways. They may be spread from a sick animal directly to a human - for example, through bites and infected saliva (like with rabies), or through the air. This is called direct zoonosis.

Zoonotic diseases can also be spread through a vector. This is an animal that carries the pathogen that causes the disease without getting infected. Diseases like this are called vector-borne diseases.

Sometimes the vector picks up the disease from another animal. For example, rats who have the bubonic plague do not directly infect humans. Instead, fleas bite the rats and pick up the bacteria that causes plague without getting sick. Then, if the flea bites a human, they can pass the bacteria on to the human, and the human can get the plague. The rat is the host of the disease, and the flea is the vector.

Types of zoonotic diseases

Foodborne illnesses

Many foodborne illnesses are zoonotic diseases. In these cases, a human gets sick from eating food that came from a sick animal.

The most common pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses are Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. Eggs, seafood, meat, poultry, and dairy products can all carry these bacteria and cause foodborne illnesses, like food poisoning, in humans.

Other zoonotic illnesses that humans can get from eating or drinking include:

Disease Pathogen Host Spread By...
Brucellosis Brucella bacteria Cattle, goats, sheep, camels Having unpasteurized milk or cheese; Eating under-cooked meat.
Cholera Vibrio cholerae bacteria Shellfish Eating under-cooked shellfish.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease Prions Cattle Eating meat from cattle who had mad cow disease.
Listeriosis Listeria bacteria Cattle, fish Having unpasteurized milk or cheese; Eating under-cooked meat or seafood.
Toxoplasmosis Toxoplasma gondii parasite Pigs, lambs, deer, cattle Eating under-cooked meat.

Often, people can avoid foodborne illnesses by cooking meat, seafood, and eggs well enough to kill the bacteria or parasites in them.

Direct zoonoses

Below are some examples of zoonotic diseases that humans can get directly from sick, live animals.

Disease Pathogen Host Spread By...
Anthrax Bacillus anthracis bacteria Cattle, sheep, goats, camels, horses, pigs Breathing in anthrax spores or getting them on the skin.
Influenza Influenza A virus Horses, pigs, birds, seals, whales, and more Exhaled air from infected animals.
Lassa fever Lassa virus Rodents Contact with rodent feces.
Rabies Rabies virus Dogs, bats, cattle, monkeys, wolves, and more Infected saliva from being bitten, or by being scratched.
Toxoplasmosis Toxoplasma gondii parasite Cats Cat feces (in cat litter boxes or dirt).
Tuberculosis Mycobacterium bovis bacteria Cattle, deer, llamas, pigs, cats, and more Exhaled air, sputum, urine, feces, or pus from infected animals.

Vector-borne zoonotic diseases

Disease Pathogen Host Vector
African sleeping sickness Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense parasite Many wild and farm animals Tsetse fly.
Bubonic plague Yersinia pestis bacteria Rodents Fleas.
Dengue fever Flaviviruses Humans and primates Aedes mosquitoes.
Lyme disease Borrellia bacteria Rodents Ticks.
Malaria Plasmodium parasites Humans Mosquitoes.
West Nile fever West Nile virus Mostly birds Mosquitoes.

Related pages

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Zoonosis para niños

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