We often spend a lot of time with animals, whether it's hanging out with pets at home or crossing paths with wildlife in the great outdoors. Sharing space and time with creatures can also mean sharing diseases with them. Scientists estimate that more than six out of 10 infectious diseases in people were originally spread from animals. These are called zoonotic diseases.
About 60% of all human diseases and 75% of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, according to the report, "Mapping of Poverty and Likely Zoonoses Hotspots."
Many diseases like Lyme disease and toxoplasmosis you can get from your pet. Here are several more you can get from animals you encounter in your backyard, in the woods or even at the zoo.
With the coronavirus outbreak that started in December of 2019 in China, there's been a lot of attention on this family of viruses. Coronaviruses can carry mild symptoms similar to the common cold, but in more severe cases, they can cause pneumonia, kidney failure and even death, reports the World Health Organization (WHO). Coronaviruses are the same family of viruses that include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
Investigators found that SARS was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS was spread from dromedary camels to humans. The new coronavirus in China originated at a market where live wild animals were being sold. Some researchers believe that it may have originated with snakes at the market.
A few years ago, Florida health and wildlife experts warned residents to keep their distance from armadillos due to a reported increase in the number of cases of leprosy. By mid-2015, nine cases of Hansen's disease (the official name for leprosy) were found in the state. The disease is caused by bacteria that have been found in nine-banded armadillos, according to a report in USA Today. That's how all the cases in Florida were likely transmitted, say experts. Although it's possible to get the disease from an armadillo, the risk is low and most people who come in contact with the animals are unlikely to get the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome
Rats and mice spread hantaviruses among themselves. Some hantaviruses can cause a rare but deadly disease called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). In North America, only the deer mouse, cotton rat, rice rat and white-footed mouse have the form of the virus that can cause HPS. People typically get the infection by inhaling the dust from rodent droppings stirred up into the air or by touching rodent urine, droppings or nesting materials and then touching their mouths, according to the CDC. Early symptoms include fever, severe muscle aches and fatigue.
The bacteria that cause this disease are spread through the urine of infected animals, which can get into the soil or water. The organism has been found in rats, pigs, dogs, cows, and wild animals, particularly bats. A study published in 2009 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine pointed to bats as particularly strong transmitters of the disease because they are so abundant and because they come in contact with both domestic animals and people. Untreated, leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, respiratory distress and even death.
Yes, you can get rabies from a dog. But you can also get this disease from infected raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats. The disease is transmitted through an animal bite or contact with an infected animal's saliva or tissue. Rabies affects a person's central nervous system, attacking the brain and eventually leading to death if not treated quickly.
Although this highly infectious disease is typically spread from person to person, researchers believe that the first patient gets sick by coming into contact with an infected animal, such as a fruit bat or an ape or monkey. In Africa, Ebola can be spread by handling "bushmeat" (wild animals hunted for food) or contact with infected bats, the CDC says. The disease can be spread between humans through direct contact with blood or bodily fluids.
You can get E. coli from undercooked ground beef or from certain unwashed produce. But you can also getting it from touching infected animals (like cows, sheep, goats or deer) at zoos, fairs or petting farms, or even making contact with their environment. E. coli symptoms usually start a few days after exposure and include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. The disease can range from severe to life threatening, according to the CDC.
Also called rabbit fever or deer fly fever, this infectious disease usually affects rabbits, hares and rodents, although it can also infect birds, sheep and domestic pets like dogs. It can spread to people through animal bites and direct contact with infected animals. It's highly contagious and can be fatal if not diagnosed early and treated immediately, reports the Mayo Clinic.
Also known as bird flu, avian influenza Type A virus occurs naturally in wild aquatic birds around the world. It can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species, says the CDC. In rare cases, the virus can be spread to humans. In most of those cases it's when a person had unprotected contact with an infected bird and rarely has the virus been spread between people.
This respiratory disease regularly causes outbreaks in pigs. In most cases, the influenza does not infect humans, but occasionally humans will be infected, according to the CDC. Most reported cases of human infection have happened in people who have been near infected pigs at fairs or petting zoos, or who work directly with infected pigs.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information since it was published in July 2015.