Human Disease and Wildlife Disease
Many people like to live in the country to get “closer” to nature. While love of wildlife and wild lands is commendable, it is important to recognize that risks accompany the back-to-nature movement. Just consider the following quote, from a USGS publication “Disease Emergence and Resurgence: The Human-Wildlife Connection:
“According to Dr. Mark Woolhouse from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland), humans are plagued by 1,709 known pathogens, 832 of which are zoonotic (49 percent). Of the156 of these diseases that are considered “emerging,” 114 are zoonotic (73 percent). On the list of high-priority agents of concern for bioterrorism activities from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 80 percent are zoonoses (CDC A and B lists). Therefore, the wildlife-human-domestic animal connections are nearly impossible to ignore when investigating wildlife disease.” Elsewhere I have heard that of the 335 novel infectious diseases reported between 1940-2004, 60.3% came from animals, typically wild ones. For example, SARS, the serious respiratory infection came from horseshoe bats.
So in light of these statistics, what should people do?
How Wildlife Transfer Diseases to Humans
First, they should consider the various ways diseases from wildlife transfer to humans. According to the USGS publication chapter 1, diseases from wildlife are transferred to humans through
- Consumption of infected wild game
- Contaminated mouth parts and claws of animals
- Arthropod bites
- Contact with infected wildlife
- Contact with infected water
- Ingestion with infected water
- Aerosols from infected environments
- Laboratory acquired infections
Tips to Reduce Risk of Contracting Diseases from Wildlife
The second step is to reduce your risk to wildlife infections. The strategy is straightforward, if not always easy to implement. You simply need to decrease your exposure and contact to diseases through the following ways. Note these tips are NOT exhaustive and should not be construed to guarantee protection from wildlife diseases.
- Learn to identify risk bearing situations
- Understand disease life-history
- Wear appropriate personal protective equipment
- Undergo vaccinations (if available)
- Avoid disease vectors, such as insects that carry disease
- Thoroughly cook food
- Drink clean or sanitized water
- Wash hands and body after contact with wildlife and wildlife contaminated areas, particularly when exposed to bodily fluids.
- Inform your doctor that you have been involved with wildlife when you encounter flu-like symptoms. (Doctors don’t typically think of zoonotic diseases when patients exhibit flu-like symptoms).
- Consult CDC.gov for more information.
Stephen M. Vantassel is a Certified Wildlife Control Professional (CWCP) by the National Wildlife Control Operators Association (NWCOA) and writes and speaks on wildlife related topics.