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What are Zoonotic Diseases?

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  • 00:00 Zoonotic Diseases
  • 1:03 How Zoonotic Diseases…
  • 3:35 How to Protect Yourself
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will define what a zoonotic disease is, who is most at risk for getting one, as well as the common ways by which they are obtained and how they can be avoided.

Zoonotic Diseases

A little boy named Timmy was in love with the puppy his parents got him for his fifth birthday. Rocky was a playful puppy who thought Timmy was his best friend. They were absolutely inseparable. Lots of hugs, kisses, playing in the backyard together. It was love at first sight.

But one day, Timmy lost his vision in one eye. The cause? A zoonotic infection caught from a parasite living in Rocky's body. Rocky wasn't at fault; he's just a little pup. But because his parents didn't take Rocky to the veterinarian, Timmy might have caught this parasite, one that ended up causing permanent vision loss.

A zoonotic infection or zoonotic disease is an infection or disease that can be transmitted from an animal to a human. Unfortunately, there are many zoonotic diseases people can get from their pets or from other animals. This lesson will not go over any of them specifically, but it will go over how they're commonly spread from animals to humans and how you can protect yourself and others from getting a zoonotic disease.

How Zoonotic Diseases Are Spread

No one is immune from zoonotic diseases but as a general rule, the very young, the very old, pregnant women, and the sick are most at risk from getting a zoonotic disease. As varied as the zoonotic diseases are the ways by which we people can get them. Timmy got the parasite as many children do, by swallowing dirt contaminated by the parasite found in Rocky's feces.

So, whether directly or indirectly, it's best to avoid coming into contact with animal's saliva, feces, urine, or blood. This is especially true if it's a wild animal or an animal whose health status is unknown to you, like a neighbor's dog.

However, sometimes we can avoid coming into contact with an animal and still get a zoonotic disease! How so? Well, you know how you can get a package from one point in the country to another by transporting it by air or ground? You don't have to come into contact with the sender, but you still get the package.

Some zoonotic diseases are transported from an animal to a human by a vector, which is any organism that carries and transmits an infectious agent into another organism. The most famous vector is probably the mosquito. It can bite an animal; drink up an infectious agent, like a virus from the animal's blood; and then bite you and transmit the virus that way. Sneaky.

But that's not all! You can get zoonotic infectious agents and the diseases they cause from a lot more stuff. For example:

  • By drinking unpasteurized milk. Unpasteurized milk is milk where infectious agents have not been killed in a process called pasteurization.
  • By not cooking your meats very thoroughly. Some parasites infect the meat of the animal. So if you don't cook it thoroughly, you'll eat the parasite, too. Yummy!
  • By not thoroughly washing your fruits and vegetables. This is important because animal feces, which carries dangerous bacteria and parasites, might be found on these fruits and vegetables.

Now, there is one last thing I do want you to know before moving on to the next section. Some zoonotic diseases are transmitted directly through the air. Once the person inhales the microbe, they can get sick. So honestly, unless you live in a bubble, you can't really fully protect yourself from a zoonotic infection, but you can minimize the chances you'll get one.

How to Protect Yourself

Hopefully, you have already been thinking about how you can best avoid a zoonotic disease in all of the scenarios we just went over. Little kids may not know any better, so in Timmy's case, responsible adults must always ensure their pets are healthy and free from zoonotic disease by regularly visiting a veterinarian and following the vet's instructions closely.

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