Zoonoses - Animal diseases that can infect you

Zoonotic diseases are animal diseases that can infect and cause disease in humans. Anyone working with or handling animals needs to know about zoonoses and the precautions they must take to minimise their risk of infection. Examples of zoonotic diseases are: Hydatids, Q fever, Hendra Virus, Campylobacter and Salmonella.

Hendra Virus can spread from flying foxes to horses and from infected horses to humans causing death. This winter is forecast to be a higher risk season for the north east of NSW. Horse owners are encouraged to vaccinate their horses if they compete or take their horses into Hendra risk areas. For more information read the NSW Department of Primary Industries Primefact Hedra virus.

People who have close contact with large numbers of animals such as farmers, abattoir workers, shearers, knackery workers and veterinarians are at a higher risk of contracting a zoonotic disease.

Members of the wider community are also at risk from those zoonoses that can be transmitted by family pets. People are exposed to the bacteria, protozoa, fungi, viruses and parasites that cause zoonoses in a number of ways.

Some people are more susceptible to contracting a zoonotic disease due to their immune status, for example those people who are on immunosuppressive treatment, pregnant women, alcoholics and diabetics.

It is important to realise that zoonoses may be contracted from both ill and apparently healthy animals. The highest risk is from:

  • faeces
  • urine
  • birth fluids
  • eating raw eggs, milk and meat.

Contact with zoonotic disease agents is preventable by taking several basic precautions including:

  • washing hands well with soapy water after handling animals and before you eat
  • always prepare the meat you eat safely and cook it well
  • do not drink unpasteurised milk.
  • provide prompt and effective first aid treatment to cuts and scratches, and keep them covered
  • use personal protective equipment to match the task e.g. overalls, gloves, boots, goggles, aprons, masks
  • de-worm your farm dogs every 3 months against round worms and every 6 weeks against hydatids in high risk situations. Do not allow dogs to feed on offal
  • control rodents, feral cats and pigs
  • ensure you, at risk family members and staff are vaccinated against Q fever
  • horse owners should consider vaccinating their horse against Hendra virus.
  • vaccinate cattle against Leptospirosis

Further reading