World Zoonoses Day is an annual opportunity to raise awareness of the risks of diseases that spread between animals and humans as well as celebrate global steps in minimizing the risks.
World Zoonoses Day also serves as a reminder of how human well-being is intertwined with animal health. Both humans and animals have to keep healthy for the well-being of each other.
The World Health Organization defines zoonosis as any infection naturally transmissible from vertebrate animals to humans. Zoonoses can be caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites. The diseases could then be spread from human to human. Ultimately, they become a pandemic. These diseases spread when humans come in contact with animals who are infected or who carry the pathogen, when they consume the meat of such an animal, or when they use animal products.
Who is at Risk of Zoonoses?
Both animals and humans are at high risk of zoonoses. Zoonoses can spread to humans through any contact point with domestic or wild animals. Humans involved in selling meat or by-products of wild animals are particularly high risk due to the large number of new or undocumented pathogens known to exist in some wild animal populations.
Humans that also live adjacent to wildlife could be at risk of zoonoses from animals such as rats, foxes, or raccoons. Urbanization and the destruction of natural habitats have increased the risk of Zoonoses.
Rabies is one of the highly fatal zoonoses mainly transmitted to humans by infected dogs through bites and scratches. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system. If a person does not receive the appropriate medical care after a potential rabies exposure, the virus can cause disease in the brain, ultimately resulting in death. Globally, rabies deaths are reported in children between the ages of 5–14 years. If not prevented, the economic burden of dog-mediated rabies is estimated at US$ 8.6 billion per year. Rabies can be prevented by vaccinating pets, staying away from wildlife, and seeking medical care after potential exposures before symptoms start.
Other Zoonoses that are believed to have had an impact on animal and human lives include African Sleeping Sickness, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, Ebola, and Anthrax.
There has been a debate on whether Zoonoses are preventable. The truth is that Zoonoses can be prevented. However, prevention methods for zoonoses differ for each pathogen. Several practices are recognized as effective in reducing the risks of zoonoses at community and personal levels.
Safe and appropriate guidelines for animal care can help reduce the potential for foodborne zoonoses outbreaks through foods such as meat, eggs, dairy or vegetables.
Standards for clean drinking water and waste removal, as well as protections for surface water in the natural environment, are also important and effective in controlling Zoonoses.
Education campaigns to promote handwashing after contact with animals and other behavioural adjustments can reduce the community’s spread of zoonoses when they occur.
For Rabies, vaccinating dogs is the most cost-effective strategy for preventing rabies in people. Education on dog behaviour and bite prevention for both children and adults is an essential extension of a rabies vaccination program and can decrease both the incidence of human rabies and the financial burden of treating dog bites. Pre-exposure immunization is recommended for people in certain high-risk occupations such as laboratory workers handling live rabies and rabies-related viruses; and people whose professional or personal activities might bring them into direct contact with bats, carnivores, or other mammals that may be infected.
Some additional prevention measures to prevent zoonoses include;
Maintaining a safe distance from animals. If you have some pets, pay attention to their hygiene.
Do not eat, drink or touch your mouth and eyes when you are in close contact with animals, including your pets.
Keeping your pet clean
Wearing protective clothing to prevent bites from ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes.
Storing your foods properly so that animals do not come near them.
Avoid sharing food with animals.
Keeping your pets' bowls clean to avoid the breeding of microbes.
APAA works with national governments, academia, non-governmental organizations, and regional and international partners to prevent and manage zoonotic threats, and their public health, social and economic impacts.