Can Animals Spread Disease to Humans?

Lydia Flores, OSU Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development, Morgan County

What is Zoonosis?

While traveling or enjoying some outdoor activities, many people might encounter animals in either an urban or rural setting. Animals provide many benefits to people such as food, fiber, travel, sport, companionship, and education. However, animals can sometimes carry harmful pathogens that can spread to people and cause illness – these are known as zoonotic diseases or zoonosis. According to the World Health Organization (2020), a zoonosis is an infectious disease that has jumped from an animal to humans. Zoonotic pathogens can be either bacterial, viral, or parasitic. 

How can they spread?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2017) states that it is important to be aware of the common ways people can get infected with pathogens that can cause zoonotic diseases. Including:

  • Direct contact – Coming into contact with salvia, blood, urine, mucous, feces, or other body fluids of an infected animal. Examples include petting or touching animals, bites or scratches, or your dog lying in bed with you licking your face.
  • Indirect contact – Coming into contact with areas where animals live and roam, or objects that have been contaminated. Examples include aquarium tank water, pat habitats, chicken coops, barns, plants, soil, and pet food/water bowls.
  • Vector-borne – Being bitten by a tick, mosquito, or flea.
  • Foodborne/Waterborne – Eating or drinking unsafe food or liquids. For example, unpasteurized (raw) milk, undercooked meat or eggs, and raw fruits or vegetables that are contaminated with feces from an infected animal.

What are some ways to help prevent the spread?

The AgriSafe Network states that farmers, farm employees, and youth livestock exhibitors have higher levels of risk for contracting zoonotic diseases because of the frequency of their exposure to animals. Prevention is the best defense. Understanding how the disease transmission process works, building a team, and effectively communicating within that team are essential in preventing the spread of zoonotic disease. Quality Assurance programs delivered to both youth and adults help address the issues of food safety which includes a link to biosecurity, animal health, and zoonotic disease risks.

Ways to Protect Yourself

  • Choose and use the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE):
    • Respiratory protection
    • Gloves
    • Safety glasses
    • Clothing and footwear
  • Designate specific clothes and spaces.
    • Choose clothing that will only be worn in barns or exposed areas.
    • Keep that clothing in a separate area than personal/family clothes.
    • Wash the clothing in a separate area or machine, if possible.
      • If you must use the same machine or area for washing, launder separate from personal/family clothing and clean washing machine between washes.
  • Disinfect workspaces and provide a designated hand washing station.
    • Make sure cleaning solutions are clearly labeled.
    • Hot water must be available for hand washing.
    • Use only paper towels to dry.
  • While walking or working, wear:
    • Sturdy shoes
    • Long pants
    • Insect repellent
  • Inspect entire body, neck, face, and hair for cuts, scrapes, or bites daily.
  • Maintain accurate and current medical records.

For more details and information on signs and symptoms, communication needs, and special considerations for children or during pregnancy, check out this resource:

Lydia Flores, 4-H Educator Morgan County, can be reached at 740-252-5430 or This column is provided by the OSU Extension Agricultural Safety and Health Team.


World Health Organization. (2020). Zoonoses. World Health Organization.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, July 14). Zoonotic Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Zoonotic Disease in Agriculture. AgriSafe Network Inc.