World Zoonoses Day: Most Emerging Infectious Diseases Originate in Animals

The first vaccination against a zoonotic disease, which is an infectious disease that can be spread between humans and animals, was successfully administered by Louis Pasteur, a French biologist, on July 6, 1885—exactly 133 years ago today. World Zoonoses Day is held every year on this anniversary to commemorate this scientific achievement and raise awareness of the risk of zoonotic diseases. Outbreaks of zoonotic diseases, including the Ebola virus, avian influenza and West Nile virus, “result in high morbidity and mortality rates in humans and animals, cause disruptions of regional and global trade, and strain national and global public health resources,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Animals significantly contribute to the spread of zoonotic diseases. In fact, 75 percent of new or emerging diseases originate in animals, and more than 60 percent of known infectious diseases in people, such as the rabies virus, ringworm and salmonella, are transmitted from animals, according to the CDC. This stresses the importance of the veterinary profession’s involvement in addressing zoonotic diseases. Veterinarians participate in the One Health initiative, which encourages the collaborative efforts of multiple disciplines on the local, national and global level to achieve optimal health for people, animals and our environment. Establishing effective communication and strategies across sectors, including the implementation of immunization programs, biosecurity measures and large-scale culling, is critical before new public health threats emerge.

“Though often neither the veterinarian nor the animal owner realizes it, every day veterinarians protect the health of animal owners by vaccinating against or diagnosing and treating zoonotic diseases,” said TVMA member James Wright, DVM, a retired public health veterinarian who served for 20 years as chair of the TVMA One Health Committee.

The public can take several precautionary measures to avoid contracting zoonotic diseases, such as the simple act of handwashing with soap and clean water. A few other methods include wearing protective clothing and repellants to prevent bites from fleas, mosquitoes and ticks; storing and handling food safely; and avoiding bites and scratches from animals. These practices are especially important for people who are at a higher risk of contracting serious illness from zoonotic disease. Children younger than five, adults older than 65 and people with weakened immune systems are in this group of people at increased risk.

Source: Texas Veterinary Medical Assocation

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