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Zoonotic Diseases

Woman sitting outside with dog
mosquito biting a person's arm
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Every year, tens of thousands of Americans will get sick from diseases spread between animals and people. These are known as zoonotic diseases [pdf – 2 pages]. Because diseases from bugs and other animals can cause sickness or death in people, CDC is always tracking and reporting them.

Animals provide many benefits to people. However, some animals can carry germs (pathogens) that can be shared with people. Zoonotic diseases can be caused by germs including viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. Zoonoses can cause many different types of illnesses in people and animals ranging from mild to serious illness and even death. It is important to know that animals do not always appear sick when carrying a zoonotic disease. Many animals can appear healthy, but still be carrying germs that can make people sick.

Zoonotic diseases are very common, both in the United States and around the globe. 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. Every year, tens of thousands of Americans will get sick from diseases spread between animals and people. Because of this, CDC works 24/7 to protect people from zoonotic diseases.

Many people interact with animals in their daily lives, both at home and away from home. Pets offer companionship and entertainment, with millions of households having one or more pets. We might come into close contact with animals at a county fair or petting zoo, or encounter wildlife while enjoying outdoor activities. Also, animals are an important food source and provide meat, dairy, and eggs.

Animals and Health

Check out these CDC resources to learn more.

How do diseases spread between animals and people?

Because of the close connection between people and animals, it’s important to be aware of the common ways people can get infected with zoonotic diseases. These can include:

  • Direct contact: Coming into contact with the saliva, blood, urine, nasal secretions, feces 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, coops, plants, and soil, as well as food and water dishes.
  • Vectorborne: Being bitten by a mosquito, tick, flea or other vector.
  • Foodborne: Each year, 1 in 6 Americans get sick from eating contaminated food. Eating or drinking something unsafe (such as unpasteurized milk, undercooked meat or eggs or unwashed fruits and vegetables that are contaminated with feces 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 for certain zoonotic diseases. Plan to take special steps to protect people in the groups below. 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 under the age of 5 years
  • Pregnant women
  • Adults over the age of 65 years
  • Anyone with a weakened immune system – for example, someone with HIV or a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy

Boy looking at goats What can you do to protect yourself and your family from zoonotic diseases?

Thankfully, there are things you can do to protect yourself and your family from zoonotic diseases.

  • Keeping hands clean through improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.
    • Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water.
    • If clean, running water is not accessible, as is common in many parts of the world, 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.
  • Always wash your hands and follow proper hygiene after being around animals, even if you didn’t touch the animal.
  • Know the simple things you can do to stay safe around your pets.
  • 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.
  • Be aware of zoonotic diseases both at home, away from home (such as at petting zoos or other animal exhibits), and when you travel.
  • Avoid bites and scratches from animals.
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