Zoonoses: Understanding Diseases Shared Between Animals and Humans

Zoonoses are diseases and infections that naturally transmit between vertebrate animals and humans. They can be caused by a variety of pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. From the rabies virus to bacterial salmonellosis, zoonotic diseases have diverse origins and manifestations.

Why Are Zoonoses Important?

  1. Historical and Current Impact: Some of history's most devastating pandemics, such as the 1918 flu pandemic and more recently, COVID-19, have been zoonotic in origin.
  2. Economic Impact: Outbreaks can lead to significant economic losses in agriculture, reduced livelihoods, and strain on healthcare systems.
  3. Biodiversity Loss: Zoonotic diseases can also impact wildlife, leading to declines in biodiversity.

How Do Zoonoses Spread?

The transmission of zoonotic diseases can occur through various mechanisms:

  • Direct Contact: Handling animals, exposure to their bodily fluids, or getting bitten.
  • Indirect Contact: Through airborne routes or by interacting with environments contaminated by infected animals.
  • Vector-Borne: Transmitted by insects like mosquitoes (e.g., malaria) or ticks (e.g., Lyme disease).
  • Foodborne: Consuming contaminated food products.
  • Waterborne: Drinking or coming into contact with contaminated water sources.

Factors Influencing the Emergence of Zoonotic Diseases

Several factors contribute to the emergence and spread of zoonotic diseases:

  • Land Use and Urbanization: Encroachment on wildlife habitats can increase interactions between humans, livestock, and wild animals.
  • Climate Change: Altered climates can expand the range of many disease vectors, like mosquitoes.
  • Global Travel and Trade: Increased movement of people and goods facilitates the spread of diseases across borders.
  • Inadequate Public Health Measures: Poor sanitation, lack of healthcare infrastructure, and inadequate disease surveillance can exacerbate outbreaks.

Prevention and Control of Zoonoses

  1. Surveillance and Research: Monitoring and studying disease patterns in animals can offer early warning signs for potential human outbreaks.
  2. Public Awareness: Educating communities about zoonotic risks, especially in regions with high interaction between humans and animals.
  3. Vaccination: Vaccines can prevent certain zoonotic diseases in both humans and animals.
  4. Safe Practices: This includes safe handling of animals, proper cooking of food, and regular hand hygiene.

Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine's Contribution

At the Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine:

  • Expertise in Action: Our team is dedicated to diagnosing, treating, and preventing zoonotic diseases in animals.
  • Research Initiatives: We contribute to global understanding through research on various zoonotic pathogens and their transmission routes.
  • Education and Outreach: We strive to empower the community with knowledge about zoonotic risks and preventative measures.



Dr. Wendy Beauvais

Assistant Professor, Epidemiology and Public Health

Contact Dr. Wendy Beauvais  for more information


Dr. Sriveny Dangoudoubiyam

Assistant Professor, Veterinary Parasitology

Contact Dr. Sriveny Dangoudoubiyam for more information


Dr. Lynn F. Guptill

Associate Professor, Small Animal Internal Medicine; Co-Section Head, Small Animal Internal Medicine

Contact Dr. Lynn F. Guptill  for more information


Dr. Harm HogenEsch

Distinguished Professor of Immunopathology

Contact Dr. Harm HogenEsch for more information


Dr. Suresh Mittal

Distinguished Professor Of Comparative Pathobiology, University Faculty Scholar, Member Of Purdue Cancer Center, Member Of Bindley Bioscience Center

Contact Dr. Suresh Mittal  for more information


Dr. Shankar Thangamani

Assistant Professor, Microbiology

Contact Dr. Shankar Thangamani for more information


Infectious Diseases And Immunology

Visit the  Infectious diseases and Immunology web page for more information.