Zoonoses are infections or diseases that can be transmitted directly or indirectly between animals and humans.
Zoonoses are transmissible between humans and animals in a variety of ways and an infection can also often be transmitted through multiple ways. Certain zoonotic diseases in humans are mainly caused by consuming contaminated food or drinking water and include for example salmonellosis and listeriosis. Other zoonotic diseases are mainly transmitted to humans through other means than food, including:
- By vectors, i.e. living organisms that transmit infectious agents from an infected animal to a human or another animal. Vectors are frequently arthropods, such as mosquitoes, ticks, flies, fleas and lice and can transmit diseases such as malaria, West-Nile virus and Lyme disease.
- Through direct contact or close proximity with infected animals. Diseases that are mainly transmissible to other animals or humans in this way include:
- Avian influenza , which is a viral disease occurring in poultry and other birds. Pigs can also be carriers of this virus as well as of other influenza viruses. Avian influenza primarily affects birds, but there have been cases of viruses being transmitted to humans and other animals through close contact with infected birds.
- Q fever is a disease, caused by the Coxiela burnetti bacterium, affecting animals and humans. It has been reported to be present in a wide range of species, including cattle, sheep and goats as well as birds and arthropods. Human infection mainly results from the inhalation of dust contaminated with bacteria from the placenta and birth fluids or faeces from infected animals. Other modes of transmission, such as through contaminated water or the feces of infected arthropods are rare.
- A specific strain of the Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacterium (CC398) which can be transmitted through contact with live animals.
- Salmonella infections can originate from contact with infected reptiles and amphibians such as pet snakes, iguanas and frogs or their environment.
- Verotoxin-producing Escherichia coli (E. coli)can be acquired through contact with infected farm animals.
- These diseases can also be transmitted through the environment, e.g. Verotoxin-producing E. coli in contaminated swimming water.
The key actors in the European Union (EU) are working together to reduce this public health threat:
- EU Institutions, together with EU Member States, develop control measures and legislation
- Scientific bodies such as EFSA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) analyse data collected by EU Member States and assess risks for human and animal health
Main work in progress
Information on ongoing scientific work regarding different non-food-borne zoonotic diseases is available in specific topics:
EFSA’s main role is to assess risks associated with the EU food chain, ensuring a high level of consumer protection and animal health. EFSA’s independent scientific advice and scientific assistance on the food safety and animal health-related aspects of zoonotic diseases supported by data collected in Member States help European decision-makers in setting policies and making decisions to protect consumers in the European Union.
EFSA provides independent scientific advice through:
- collecting and analysing data which enables the monitoring of risks in collaboration with ECDC on zoonotic micro-organisms in human and animal populations and in food and feed as well as data on food-borne outbreaks;
- assessing the risks throughout the food chain for human health and also the risks for animal health and making recommendations on the prevention and reduction of food-borne zoonoses.
EFSA analyses monitoring data on zoonoses, zoonotic micro-organisms, antimicrobial resistance, microbiological contaminants and food-borne outbreaks across the EU. The Authority is assisted by the Network on Zoonoses Data Collection: a pan-European network of national representatives of EU Member States, other reporting countries, as well as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). EFSA also provides guidance to national authorities on how to carry out monitoring and reporting activities on zoonoses, food-borne outbreaks and antimicrobial resistance.
EFSA produces baseline survey reports on the prevalence of zoonotic micro-organisms in the EU in foods and specific animal populations. The findings are used by risk assessors such as the Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ Panel) to provide risk estimates and also by risk managers to help set reduction targets for zoonoses in the food chain and to monitor progress towards achieving these.
EFSA provides scientific advice on animal health-related aspects of non-food-borne zoonotic diseases and in some cases on the possible impact on public health. EFSA’s Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW Panel) has among others assessed the risks posed by avian influenza and Q fever, and provided advice on possible control and mitigation options. Other EFSA Panels, such as the Panel on Biological Hazards, may also be involved in scientific work related to non-food-borne zoonotic diseases.
Based on data collected by the EU Member States, EFSA produces in cooperation with ECDC annual European Union Summary Reports on zoonotic infections and food-borne outbreaks monitoring the evolving situation in Europe.
The monitoring and control of zoonotic diseases is regulated by EU legislation on zoonoses and communicable diseases.
The EU has set up systems of collecting and analysing data from Member States on the prevalence of zoonotic agents in humans and animal populations. The data provides a basis for developing control measures to prevent and reduce the prevalence of these micro-organisms in animal populations.
According to EU legislation, many communicable diseases, such as Q fever have to be notified by Member States to either national authorities or the European Commission. They are managed by various control, eradication and prevention measures.
The EU has also set out specific rules on the surveillance, control and eradication measures to be taken in the event of an avian influenza outbreak.