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Infectious diseases - Zoonoses


The term Zoonoses refers to infectious diseases which are transmissible to humans from other animal species.

Some zoonotic diseases such as Avian Influenza and Rabies can be very serious in humans and may cause fatalities.

For people who handle or treat animals on a regular basis, it’s important to be aware of the risks associated with zoonotic diseases.

Despite being able to eliminate all the connected risks, there are numerous steps which can be taken to reduce the likelihood of contracting a form of zoonoses. Some prevention methods include:

  • avoiding or minimising contact with potentially infective animals
  • using personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling infected animals or their products.

Infectious diseases

Infectious diseases that are contractible through Zoonoses include:

Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL)
  • closely related to the rabies virus
  • only vaccinated people trained in the care of bats should handle them.
Avian influenza (or Bird flu)
  • there are many types of influenza viruses that usually only infect birds, and very rarely an avian influenza virus can also infect people
Brucellosis
  • a bacterial infection caused by a number of types of Brucella bacteria that can cause illness in cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, working dogs and domestic animals
  • infection is spread through contact of breaks in the skin such as open cuts or sores with infected animal tissue or through the ingestion of unpasteurised milk and dairy products from infected animals.
  • the bacteria can also be inhaled in dusty animal enclosures, abattoirs and laboratories
  • there is no vaccination available for human protection; however, the infection can be treated with specific antibiotics.
Hendra virus
  • a sporadic disease of horses and human that can cause very serious illness and death
  • natural hosts are flying foxes which can pass on the virus to horses
  • human infection results from close contact with infected horses and their blood, body fluids and tissues.
Hydatid disease
  • caused by a small tapeworm parasite named Echinococcus granulosus
  • humans become infected by eating parasite eggs, usually when there is a hand-to-mouth transfer of eggs in dog faeces.
Influenza A viruses
  • a cause of contagious respiratory infections in swine herds
  • spread from infected to uninfected pigs primarily through contact with nasal discharges and aerosols from sneezing and coughing.
Leptospirosis
  • caused by bacteria and spread through contact with the urine of infected wild and domestic animals, or water and soil contaminated with infected urine
  • can be treated with specific antibiotics, however, vaccination for human protection is not available in Australia.
Orf
  • caused by a parapoxvirus occurring primarily in sheep and goats that can infect humans through direct contact with infected animals or fomites such as skin cells, hair and clothing carrying the virus
  • is also known as contagious pustular dermatitis, infectious labial dermatitis, ecthyma contagiosum, thistle disease and scabby mouth.
Ovine Johne’s disease
  • an incurable wasting disease found in sheep
  • is a notifiable disease and must be immediately reported if you suspect it is present in your sheep
  • when vaccinating sheep, follow the safety directions and use vaccinating guns with a safety tip on the needle
  • any needle stick injury must be treated immediately by a medical practitioner
Psittacosis
  • caused by the bacteria Chlamydia psittaci
  • is usually transmitted to humans from birds in the parrot family but also found in other species including poultry, pigeons, canaries and seabirds.
Q fever
  • spread from contact with animals, most commonly sheep, cattle, goats and some native wildlife
  • infection usually occurs from inhaling aerosols and dust contaminated with animal urine, faeces, milk or birthing products
  • infected animals generally show no signs of being sick
  • some infected people have few symptoms, and others may develop a severe flu-like illness
  • chronic infection can occur, which most commonly affects the heart (endocarditis)
  • some people develop Q fever fatigue syndrome which can last for a long time
  • infection in pregnant women can cause miscarriage and premature birth
  • the bacteria that cause Q fever are very handy and can survive in the environment for long periods of time
  • can be treated with specific antibiotics, however, vaccination for human protection is unavailable
  • at-risk workplaces such as shearing should implement a Q fever vaccination program to protect workers
  • to find a vaccinator in your state visit the Q Fever site.
Toxoplasmosis
  • caused by a parasite known as Toxoplasmosis gondii, which is usually found in cats, other mammals and birds.
  • occurs worldwide, with human infection being common.

Additional information

For further guidance surrounding zoonoses and infectious diseases visit:

For instructions on reporting animal diseases visit Primary industries and regions SA.