Zoonotic diseases: It’s not all bad news

iStock_000007898418SmallZoonotic diseases are diseases that can be spread between animals and humans. And they’re more common than you may think- did you know that about 60% of all human pathogens are zoonotic?

You probably know about many of these. You may know that you can contract Lyme Disease from a tick bite, or West Nile Virus from infected mosquito bites. You might know that you can get salmonella from handling reptiles and amphibians, and you’ve definitely heard of H1N1, the swine flu. And if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve also heard of MERS, hantavirus, and tularemia. (Warning: creepy.)

But it works both ways: humans can also transmit diseases to animals. It’s known that humans can spread the flu to companion animals, and new research shows that MRSA bacteria that infects dogs and cats is genetically similar to the MRSA bacteria that infects humans. Read: this bacteria likely originated in humans, and then spread to animals.

And although it’s scary to think of diseases crossing the species barrier (ebola or rabies, anyone?), there’s a silver lining here that shouldn’t be ignored. By studying routes of transmission and impact of diseases on both humans and animals, researchers can hopefully use these similarities to their advantage. A treatment that works on animals could potentially work on humans, and new therapies in humans could help our pets, too.

**Disclaimer: Photo was chosen because it was cute, not because the author condones kissing frogs. In reading this, you release the author from any responsibility if you decide to kiss a frog and contract salmonella, tapeworm cysts, or mycobacteriosis. Just don’t.