Every year, tens of thousands of Americans get sick from zoonotic diseases. Also known as zoonoses, these are infectious diseases that are spread between animals and people.
Zoonotic diseases are caused by harmful microbes like viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. They can cause many different types of illnesses in people and animals ranging from mild to serious illness and even death. Some animals can appear healthy even when they are carrying infectious agents that can make people sick.
Scientists estimate that more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people are spread from animals, and 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people are spread from animals.
Zoonotic diseases can cause epidemics and pandemics.
Because zoonotic diseases are very common around the world and are a serious public health threat, several federal agencies have been collaborating to address associated challenges. In late April, those agencies released the first federal report on zoonotic diseases, in which they included a list of the top eight of concern for the US.
The report, which prioritizes zoonotic diseases based on feedback from December 2017's One Health Zoonotic Disease Prioritization Workshop for the United States workshop, was compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the US Department of the Interior (DOI).
The eight illnesses were chosen based on the potential for the disease to cause an epidemic or pandemic, the severity of the disease, the economic impact, the potential for the introduction or spread of the disease in the US, and the potential for bioterrorism. To clarify, an epidemic refers to when a disease affects more of a given population than expected, and a pandemic refers to a worldwide epidemic.