Explainer: Animals’ role in human disease

Wildlife, livestock and pets are the source of most germs that can sicken people

By Amanda Leigh Mascarelli, 09:43 AM August 15, 2013


Swine flu gets its name from the fact that the infection initially developed in pigs and then spread among people, beginning with farm families and butchers. Pigs also became a host for Nipah — a killer disease initially carried by bats. Credit: iStockphoto



Nearly 75 percent of new, or emerging, infectious diseases in people were first spread by animals. Indeed, half of all germs known to cause human disease come from other animals. Some sources were birds, bats and other types of wildlife. Livestock and pet animals have spread many other diseases. Scientists refer to the infections that people pick up from animals as being zoonotic (ZOO-oh-NOT-ik).


The germs and other infectious agents that cause these diseases are known as pathogens. Most a...

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