There are specific infections that can transfer from animals to humans which may cause disease known as ‘zoonotic diseases’ or zoonoses. Any animal can potentially transmit a zoonotic infection, including companion animals, farm animals and wildlife. Zoonotic diseases can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. People handling and working with animals should be aware of the different types of zoonotic diseases present in animals, how they are transmitted and how to prevent them.
How do you catch diseases from animals?
Humans can develop a zoonotic disease from the transfer of an infection in a number of ways including:
- Direct contact such as patting or touching an animal, as well as through bites and scratches from an animal. Avoid kissing your pet and prevent your pet from licking your face.
- Indirect contact through interaction with an area or object that the animal has contaminated. This can include chicken coops, aquarium tanks, bedding and soil. Prevent children from playing in soil which may be contaminated with animal faeces.
- Vector-borne involves a second animal (known as the vector), most commonly an insect, that carries the disease from the animal to the human. Vector-borne zoonotic diseases include dengue fever and Ross River virus which are transmitted by mosquitoes.
- Foodborne zoonotic diseases are transmitted through the consumption of infected or contaminated animal products such as undercooked meat or unpasteurized milk or handling raw meat.
How do I avoid zoonotic diseases?
Anyone can catch a disease from an animal, but people with lower immunity are the most susceptible (children under 5, adults over 65, others on immunosuppressant or similar medication). Animals do not always show symptoms of disease so precautions should be taken with all animals to avoid any infections being transferred.
The following steps will minimise the risk of developing a zoonotic disease from a live animal:
- Hygiene: hands should be washed after being near animals, whether you touched them or not
- Keep animals healthy: regular veterinary checks and preventative health care will help reduce animals contracting any disease
- Avoid animal bites and scratches: do not interact with wild animals and be aware of aggressive behaviour in domestic animals. Read your pet’s body language to predict behaviour to prevent bites and scratches. If you do get bitten by an animal, visit your doctor for assistance without delay.
- Zoonosis awareness: read up on diseases that may impact the species of animals you handle