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Zoonotic Diseases: 5 Diseases That Are Transmitted Via Animals

Dr. Pragnya Rao

Learn how diseases transmitted from animals pose challenges for healthcare.

Zoonoses or zoonotic diseases are infections caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, etc in humans, transmitted via animal sources through direct contact or indirectly (through food and vectors like ticks). These infections usually cause outbreaks in communities and local areas, posing a major challenge for the healthcare sector in the management of the disease burden. 

COVID-19 could also be a zoonotic disease, as it is believed to have had its origin in bats. However, strong scientific evidence is yet to be established to back the claim and figure out how the virus could have been introduced into the human population (through an intermediate animal reservoir). 

The World Zoonoses Day falls on July 6. It commemorates the day when the first Rabies vaccine was administered by Louis Pasteur in 1885. 

It becomes all the more important during these times to know and understand common zoonotic diseases and how to prevent them. Zoonotic diseases can be transmitted from animals to humans in various ways. Hunting and trading wild animals in wet markets for human consumption, indirect routes through vectors like ticks, mosquitoes & mites, and direct contact with domesticated animals/poultry are common means of the spillover of the disease into local communities. 

Here are a few zoonotic diseases in India you should know about:

  • Scrub typhus: This zoonotic disease usually affects rodents and is transmitted to humans via bites of chiggers (larval mites). It is caused by Orientia tsutsugamushi bacteria, leading to symptoms like fever, rashes and body ache. 
  • Brucellosis: It is a contagious, bacterial infection that affects people who consume unpasteurized milk or undercooked animal as well as have close contact with infected animals such as cattle, sheep, dogs and cats. Symptoms like fever, fatigue, joint pain and weight loss are encountered in Brucellosis.
  • Japanese Encephalitis: Japanese encephalitis (JE) is a mosquito-borne viral infection that usually affects donkeys, horses and pigs. In humans, it causes symptoms like high fever, headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, etc. There are vaccines against JE given in endemic districts of India. 
  • Zoonotic influenza: Avian flu and swine flu, usually affecting birds and pigs, can rarely affect humans and cause outbreaks due to the contagious nature of the influenza virus, leading to symptoms like fever, cough, headache and respiratory difficulty. 
  • Nipah virus infection: The Nipah virus was first encountered in India in 2001, and a recent outbreak in May 2018 was reported in Kerala. The virus in India was transmitted via fruits and fruit products that were contaminated with saliva/urine from infected fruit bats. Symptoms can range from a mild fever to more serious ones like disorientation, altered consciousness and features of pneumonia/severe respiratory problems.

Other zoonotic diseases like Rabies, Cysticercosis, Echinococcosis, Leptospirosis, Plague, Scrub typhus, Kyasanur Forest Disease and Trypanosomiasis also cause outbreaks, health problems and occupational risks in the Indian populace.

A few prevention tips can help in keeping zoonotic diseases at bay:

  • Frequent washing of hands with soap and water, especially when there has been direct contact with animals or animal products is a simple yet significant prevention strategy against zoonotic diseases. 
  • Using proper food safety measures and maintaining hygiene during storing or cooking food is important. 
  • Avoiding scratches and bites from animalspets or other animals eliminated one of the most important transmission routes of pathogens from them. 
  • Wearing protective clothing and repellants can help prevent bites from fleas, mosquitoes and ticks. 

If you develop symptoms like fever, fatigue, body ache, nausea, vomiting, etc after recent animal contact, you should reach out to physicians on MFine. If you develop flu-like symptoms, you can assess your risk of developing COVID-19 and speak to a doctor online from the comfort of your home on MFine. #HarGharMeinDoctor

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