Zoonoses Associated with Wild Carnivores
This document provides information on various diseases that can be passed from wild canids (wolves, coyotes), wild felids (bobcat, lynx and cougar), bears and other wild carnivorous species to humans. Often these diseases do not make the animal appear sick but can cause serious illness in humans. Persons with specific medical conditions such as a chronic illness, immunodeficiency and pregnancy may be at higher risk of developing disease or complications from a zoonotic disease and should consult with their physician before working with animals. The diseases associated with wild carnivores include rabies, ringworm and external parasites, tularemia, brucellosis, leptospirosis, yersiniosis, campylobacterosis, salmonellosis, cryptosporidiosis, giardiasis, infections with pathogenic E. coli, toxoplasmosis, echinococcosis, and cutaneous and visceral larval migrans. Additional information on zoonotic diseases can be found on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Website, Healthy Pets, Healthy People.
Diseases associated with direct contact or bites:
Rabies is a fatal viral infection that can be transmitted by bites, scratches and mucus membrane exposure from an infected animal. Captive animals can be infected from contact with wildlife such as bats, skunks, and raccoons. Infected animals often exhibit neurological symptoms and unusual behavior. There is an effective vaccine available for people and most domestic animals including dogs but there is no rabies vaccine for wildlife or wildlife/domestic hybrids. Animals with undiagnosed neurological disease should be treated with caution to avoid bites and scratches. If a person is bitten or scratched by a suspect animal, the animal should be tested for rabies. If exposed, persons should seek post-exposure rabies prophylaxis from a medical professional immediately. Persons who routinely work in high risk activities should be vaccinated against rabies.
Diseases associated with vectors or contaminated materials:
Dermatophytosis is a fungal skin infection commonly known as “ringworm” and is seen in both animals and people as scaly round areas of hair loss. Transmission of ringworm is by direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected animal or from contaminated materials.
External parasites such as fleas, ticks, lice, and mites are occasionally transmitted by close contact with an infested animal or handling infested bedding. Animals and animal housing areas should be routinely treated for external parasites.
Tularemia and Leptospirosis are bacterial infections of wild rodents and rabbits that occasionally infect wild carnivores that hunt or drink contaminated water. People can be infected by contact with infected body fluids and tissues, ingestion and inhalation of contaminated water or materials and tick and deer fly bites. People affected by Tularemia can have symptoms like fever, headache, chills, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, inflamed eyes, muscle aches, skin ulcers, mouth sores, diarrhea, and pneumonia. Leptospirosis symptoms in people can include flu-like ones (fever, headache, chills, vomiting) and rashes but may progress to more severe ones including jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), kidney or liver failure, and meningitis.
Salmonellosis, campylobacterosis, cryptosporidiosis, giardiasis, toxoplasmosis and infections with pathogenic E. coli are acquired by contact and accidental ingestion of fecal material from infected animals. Symptoms in people may include abdominal cramps, vomiting and diarrhea, etc. Toxoplasmosis can cause miscarriage or stillbirth in pregnant women and can lead to ocular (eye) disease in affected people. Tapeworms (Echinococcus, Taenia) and roundworms (Toxocara, Toxocaris, Baylisascaris) are parasites in wild canids, felids and bears, which are also transmitted to humans by ingestion of infected fecal material. Cutaneous larval migrans (hookworm) occurs when parasitic larvae penetrate the skin and cause a local skin reaction. This primarily occurs from walking barefoot in areas contaminated with animal feces. Animals infected with these bacterial, protozoal and parasitic diseases typically have diarrhea, but some animals may show no symptoms of disease. Yersiniosis is acquired through bites from infected fleas or from contact with body fluids from infected animals. Symptoms of yersiniosis in people can include high fever and chills, headache, malaise, and swollen lymph nodes.
Avoid direct contact with feces and urine and use gloves and hand washing to avoid accidental oral ingestion of animal waste. Any animal with diarrhea should be suspect of having a zoonotic disease.
Individuals with exposure to animals and animal environments may develop allergic reactions to animal proteins (allergens). Approximately 20-30 percent of individuals working with laboratory animals will develop an allergic reaction to animal proteins and 5-10 percent of individuals will develop asthma. Personnel may be exposed to allergens through inhalation and contact with skin, eyes and mucous membranes. Animal allergens may be present in animal dander, hair, skin, urine, saliva, serum and any contaminated feed or bedding materials. Risk factors for developing an allergic reaction include history of previous allergies to animals. The signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction are nasal discharge and congestion, conjunctivitis, tearing and eye itching, skin redness, rash or hives and lower airway symptoms (coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath). Individuals with symptoms suggestive of an allergic reaction related to a workplace allergen should report their concerns to their supervisor and consult a physician.
Transmission of zoonotic diseases from animals is primarily by direct contact, ingestion, indirect contact with insect vectors and contaminated inanimate objects, or inhalation of aerosolized materials. We can protect ourselves from most diseases by using the following procedures:
- Handle animals appropriately and safely to avoid bites and scratches. Thoroughly wash any bite or scratch wounds and report injuries.
- Do not eat, drink, apply cosmetics or use tobacco products while handling animals or in animal housing areas.
- Wear gloves when handling animals, animal tissues, body fluids and waste and wash hands after contact.
- Wear dedicated protective clothing such as a lab coat, scrubs or coveralls and close-toed shoes when handling animals. Launder the soiled clothing separate from your personal clothes and preferably at the animal facility.
- Wear respiratory protection when appropriate.
- Keep animal areas clean and disinfect equipment after using it on animals or in animal areas.
Most importantly, familiarize yourself about the animals that you will be working with and the potential zoonotic diseases associated with each species. If at any time, you suspect that you have acquired a zoonotic disease, inform your supervisor and seek medical care.
**Prepared by Office of the Campus Veterinarian and the Office of Research Assurances January 2021
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy Pets, Healthy People. (https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/wildlife.html)