Although the number of different diseases that can infect humans is quite large, most people are affected by only a few of them, and many of the diseases people do experience are easily overcome. The same seems to be true of wild animals, although statistical records do not always tell us which animals are most apt to experience what diseases and how serious some of those diseases can be. What is known is that some wild animal diseases can be passed on to humans, and several of them can be quite serious and potentially deadly.
Diseases that spread from animals to humans are called zoonotic diseases. There are a few zoonotic diseases that humans can spread to animals, but which are not widely known. Fortunately, a great deal is known about most of the more common zoonotic diseases that can make the jump from wild animals to people. For example, we know quite a bit about rabies, plague, and Hantavirus, and therefore have some knowledge of the steps that can be taken to avoid them.
Some zoonotic diseases are spread by bites or scratches, some are airborne, and a few are encountered while an animal carcass is being handled or being prepared in some way. While most people can avoid encounters with wild animals, or at least having to touch them, the same is not true of hunters who consequently are at a higher risk of contracting a certain number of these diseases. Several examples of how zoonotic diseases can be spread are given below.
- Animal Bites – Most bites are caused by household pets, and do not result in the transmission of a disease. A person is more apt to be bitten by a wild animal, however, if the animal is approached too closely, or is touched. Most instances of rabies are caused by wild animal bites.
- Flea and Tick Bites– Flea bites are usually harmless although they can be quite irritating and can sometimes lead to secondary infections. Wild animals, including birds, will sometimes host fleas that have been infected with some type of virus. An infected flea bite or tick bite can cause a human to become ill, even if the host animal is not. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are often associated with wildlife but are actually caused by ticks.
- Brucellosis – This disease is not as widespread in the United States as once was the case, but is still a major problem in Latin America and some developing countries. It is normally spread by cattle, but in the U.S. the disease is most often associated with bison. Significant efforts in the United States are made to keep open-range bison and cattle separated for this reason.
- West Nile Virus – While this familiar virus is particularly dangerous to horses, as South Louisianians well know it can affect humans and in some cases can prove to be fatal. The common carrier of this virus is a mosquito that has been infected with the disease, but birds and other wild animals that have been bitten by an infected mosquito can also be carriers and so spread the infection to humans. The direct spreading of the virus from animals to humans is at the present time somewhat rare.
Most of the diseases that can endanger humans are viruses, while parasitic diseases are somewhat less common. When they do occur it is often the result of field dressing wild game that are hosts of parasites of one type or another, with the disease usually being transmitted by eggs which enter the human organism.
Statistically, the instances of humans being infected with diseases by wild animals are relatively uncommon, but why take the chance?
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Real Health Threats from Wild Animals in Louisiana
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