KOCHI: Zoonotic means infectious diseases that are spread between animals and people. Many people interact with animals in their daily lives, both at home and away from home. We come into close contact with animals through our pets, at a zoo, or encounter wildlife while outdoor. Also, animals are an important food source and provide meat, dairy, and eggs.
However, some animals can carry harmful germs that can be shared with people and cause illness -these are known as zoonotic diseases or zoonoses. Zoonotic diseases are caused by harmful germs like viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. These germs can cause many different types of illnesses in people and animals ranging from mild to serious illness and even death like the recent Nipah outbreak.
Leptospirosis and brucellosis are among the most common zoonoses, while rabies is the deadliest of the lot. A host of other diseases such as A (H1N1) influenza, A (H5NI) avian influenza, plague, anthrax, endemic typhus, hydatidosis and bovine tuberculosis, which are communicated by animals have led to a major health crisis, In recent years several new zoonoses have emerged like Kaysanur forest disease, Monkeypox, Lassa fever and Nipah.
Some animals can appear healthy even when they are carrying germs that can make people sick. Scientists estimate that more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people are spread from animals,and 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people are spread from animals.
The factors that fan the spread of diseases include international travel of people, transportation of animals and animal products and climate changes. India has the largest animal population in the world. Being an agricultural country the relationship between man and animals is the closest in this country. It is not uncommon to see animals and human beings living under the same room. World Zoonoses Day is observed to commemorate the first administration of anti-rabies vaccination by Louis Pasteur in 1885.
How do germs spread between animals and people?
Direct contact: Coming into contact with the saliva, blood, urine, mucous, faeces, or other body fluids of an infected animal. Examples include petting or touching animals, and bites or scratches.
Indirect contact: Coming into contact with areas where animals live and roam, or objects or surfaces that have been contaminated with germs. Examples include aquarium tank water, pet habitats, chicken coops, plants, and soil, as well as pet food and water dishes.
Vector-borne: Being bitten by a tick, or an insect like a mosquito or a flea.
Foodborne: Eating or drinking something unsafe (such as unpasteurised milk, undercooked meat or eggs, or raw fruits and vegetables that are contaminated with faeces from an infected animal).
Who is at a higher risk of serious illness from zoonotic diseases?
Anyone can become sick from a zoonotic disease, including healthy people. However, some people may be more at risk than others these groups of people include:
Children younger than 5
Adults older than 65
People with weakened immune systems
What can you 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.
Prevent bites from mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas.
Learn more about ways to handle food safely—whether it’s for yourself or your family, your pet, or other animals.
Avoid bites and scratches from animals.
Dr Puthussery Sumesh Chacko MD (General Medicine)
Consultant - Dept. of General Medicine, Lourdes Hospital, Kochi
(The views expressed by the author are his own)