University of Illinois Extension

Public Health and Safety Issues

Zoonoses: Diseases of Animals and Humans

Zoonoses are infectious diseases that can be transmitted between humans and animals, both wild and domestic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that approximately 75 percent of recently emerging infectious diseases that affect humans are diseases of animal origin, and approximately 60 percent of all human pathogens are zoonotic. Contact between humans, livestock, domestic pets, and wildlife are bound to occur, which increases the likelihood of disease transmission. However, it is often hard to determine patterns of human-animal interactions, which makes tracking the spread of disease difficult. Having access to science-based information about zoonoses can help people better assess their potential risk and take necessary precautions. Keep in mind that not all wild animals are carriers of disease. It is safe to enjoy outdoor activities. However, as a safety precaution, it is important to avoid contact with wildlife. Untrained people should not handle or feed wildlife.

Avoiding Zoonotic Diseases

There are several simple steps you can take to avoid becoming infected with a zoonotic disease.

  • Avoid direct contact with wild animals and their teeth, claws, feces, and body fluids. Avoiding contact is particularly important if the animal is acting abnormally. For example: nocturnal animals that are active during the day, wild animals that appear to be lethargic or tame, or wildlife that walk in circles, cannot move or appear to be having seizures.
  • Do not adopt wild animals. Sick, injured, or orphaned wildlife should either be left alone or cared for by an experienced wildlife rehabilitator.
  • Take precautions so that you do not get scratched or bitten if you are livetrapping a wild animal. Avoid contact with feces and body fluids. If possible, hire a Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator to trap the animal for you.
  • Do not eat sick animals. Properly cook game animals. The following link provides a chart that gives the proper cooking temperature for different types of meat, including game. For more information, read the Illinois Department of Public Health's HealthBeat: Safe Food Handling.
  • Avoid contact with dead animals. If you find a dead animal in your yard, take precautions to protect yourself. Wear rubber gloves, double wrap the animal in garbage bags, and place the animal and the gloves in the trash. Alternatively, small animals or birds may be buried away from public areas and water sources. Carcasses should be buried at least six inches below ground. Cover the site to prevent animals from digging up the carcass. Thoroughly wash your hands with hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds when you are finished disposing of the animal.
  • Avoid contact with animal feces, body fluids, and decomposing carcasses. Many infectious agents are shed in the excretions of animals and some can remain viable in the soil for many months. Thus, it is important to always thoroughly wash your hands with hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds after gardening or working outdoors.
  • Wear insect repellent and check for ticks after spending time outdoors in natural areas.
  • Vaccinate your pets.
  • Do not let pets wander outdoors unsupervised. Cats or dogs that come into contact with sick wildlife have the potential to become infected themselves and pass certain diseases, such as rabies or toxoplasmosis, on to their owner.
  • Do not feed wildlife other than birds. Animals such as squirrels, raccoons, foxes, and others may become nuisance animals if they become accustomed to humans. Remember that it is illegal to feed deer in Illinois due to concerns about Chronic Wasting Disease.
  • If you feed birds, be sure to properly maintain the feeders by sticking to a regular cleaning schedule. Always wash your hands with hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds after touching feeders or bird baths. For more information, read the Audubon Society's guide to Feeder Maintenance and Hygiene.
  • Exclude rodents, birds, and bats from human-occupied buildings. Wear gloves, safety glasses, and a respirator when cleaning areas that have been heavily contaminated with mouse, bird, or bat droppings. For more information:

Zoonotic Diseases

This section provides basic information about zoonoses and how to prevent their transmission. If you are interested in learning more about zoonoses, you may find these resources useful.