National Wildlife Health Center

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USGS Circulars on Zoonotic Diseases


Diseases, such as rabies and West Nile virus, that can be passed from animals to humans are called zoonotic diseases. The USGS National Wildlife Health Center, with support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners, has produced the following circulars about some important zoonotic diseases. Written for the general public as well as scholars, these publications include information on causative agent, geographic distribution, patterns and trends, species susceptibility, obtaining a diagnosis, disease ecology and more.

Tularemia (2006)

Tularemia is a highly infectious disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. Infections in humans are not contagious and most often result from contact with infected wildlife, ingestion of or contact with contaminated water, or bites from ticks and other arthropods that have fed on infected wildlife.

Bat Rabies and Other Lyssavirus Infections (2009)

Bat Rabies and Other Lyssavirus Infections offers readers an overview of the virus variants that cause bat rabies, and geographical patterns in occurrence of this disease. The section Species Susceptibility describes infection rates and trends among bats, humans, and other animals. Disease Ecology considers the biological and environmental dynamics of the disease in various species of bats. Points to Ponder: Interspecies Interactions in Potential Bat Rabies Transmission Settings discusses the narrowing interface of bat colonies and human society and how humans and domestic animals play a role in transmission of bat rabies. Disease Prevention and Control outlines how to limit exposure to rabid bats and other animals. Appendixes include extensive tables of reported infections in bat species and in humans, and a glossary of technical terms is included. The author, Denny G. Constantine, helped define rabies infection in insect-eating bats and has investigated bat rabies ecology for more than half a century.

Plague (2012)

Plague offers readers an overview of this highly complex disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis. The history of the disease, as well as information about Yersinia pestis and its transmission by fleas, is described. The section Geographic Distribution presents areas of the world and United States where plague occurs most commonly in rodents and humans. Species Susceptibility describes infection and disease rates in rodents, humans, and other animals. Disease Ecology considers the complex relationship among rodents, domestic and wild animals, and humans and explores possible routes of transmission and maintenance of the organism in the environment. The effects of climate change, the potential for Y. pestis to be used as a bioweapon, and the impact of plague on conservation of wildlife are considered in Points to PonderDisease Prevention and Control outlines methods of prevention and treatment including vaccination for prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets. 

Trichinosis (2013)

Trichinosis, or trichinellosis, is one of the most widespread global parasitic diseases of humans and animals. This ancient disease is caused by the larval stage of parasitic roundworms (nematodes) in the genus Trichinella. Often called the “trichina worm,” this parasite is considered to be the king of the parasite community, because it has adapted to an extremely wide range of hosts including domestic animals, wildlife, and humans. Trichinella spiralis is the usual cause of the disease in humans, but humans and many other mammals, birds, and reptiles also can be infected with other species or strains of Trichinella. Regardless of climate and environments, a wide variety of hosts on most continents are infected. Trichinella is transmitted through the ingestion of infected meat, primarily through predation or cannibalism of raw meat, and this ensures survival of the parasite in a wide variety of hosts. Humans become infected only by eating improperly cooked meat that contains infective larvae.

Toxoplasmosis (2014)

Toxoplasmosis (Toxoplasma gondii), one of the better known and more widespread zoonotic diseases, originated in wildlife species and is now well established as a human malady. Food- and waterborne zoonoses, such as toxoplasmosis, are receiving increasing attention as components of disease emergence and resurgence. Toxoplasmosis is transmitted to humans via consumption of contaminated food or water, and nearly one-third of humanity has been exposed to this parasite. The role of wildlife in this transmission process is becoming more clearly known and is outlined in this report.

Anisakiosis and Pseudoterranovosis (2014)

Anisakiosis and pseudoterranovosis are parasitic diseases caused by infection with larval nematodes or roundworms of the genera Anisakis and Pseudoterranova. The life cycles of Anisakis spp., commonly called whaleworm, and Pseudoterranova spp., commonly called sealworm, are complex and involve three marine hosts (invertebrates, fish, and marine mammals). Whales, dolphins, or porpoises are the definitive hosts in which Anisakis spp. become sexually mature, and seals, sea lions, or walrus are the definitive hosts of Pseudoterranova spp. These zoonotic parasites have medical and economic importance and can result in considerable costs to the fishing industry. Humans are accidentally infected by consuming raw, poorly cooked, cold smoked, lightly salted, or marinated marine fish or squid, the intermediate hosts infected with larval stages.

Baylisascaris Larva Migrans (2016)

Baylisascaris procyonis, the common raccoon roundworm, is the most commonly recognized cause of clinical larva migrans (LM) in animals, a condition in which an immature parasitic worm or larva migrates in a host animal’s tissues, causing obvious disease. Infection with B. procyonis is best known as a cause of fatal or severe neurologic disease that results when the larvae invade the brain, the spinal cord, or both; this condition is known as neural larva migrans (NLM). In humans, B. procyonis can cause damaging visceral (VLM), ocular (OLM), and neural larva migrans. Due to the ubiquity of infected raccoons around humans, there is considerable human exposure and risk of infection with this parasite.

These and other USGS publications are also available online via the USGS Publications Warehouse.

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