Zoonotic diseases

Diseases that are naturally transmitted from warm-blooded animals to humans are called zoonoses. In Europe zoonoses originating from wildlife sources and transmitted by arthropods are considered to become increasingly important in the future. Climate and ecological changes may favour already existing arthropods to expand to other regions and thus new pathogens can be introduced in Europe.

In the Netherlands zoonoses are of major importance because it is a densely populated country with high numbers of livestock and pet animals and human activities favours close contact with wildlife such as migrating waterfowl, deer and fox populations. Recent zoonotic outbreaks of importance are avian influenza  in poultry in 2003 and Q fever epidemic in 2007-2010. Besides the threat for outbreaks, endemic zoonoses still need attention.

Zoonotic diseases affect and are carried by domestic animals, farm animals, wild animals or rodents such as mice and rats. Humans are frequently exposed to zoonotic organisms since they can also spread into the environment, such as children's sandpits, water and food.  Some diseases are transmitted by insect or tick bites. The insect or tick is then termed a ‘vector’ (from the Latin word for carrier).

One Health approach

RIVM coordinates national activities on the signalling and response of zoonoses together with key partners in the veterinary field. Monthly meetings are being organised to discuss the zoonotic signals between veterinary and (regional) public health partners. Strategic focus of research activities in the field of zoonoses are livestock-, wildlife- and vector borne zoonoses on the animal-human interface. RIVM has unique expertise in the field of parasitic zoonoses and advices national authorities.

Examples of research activities include Livestock Farming and Neighbouring Residents’ Health, Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases, Q fever, parasitic zoonoses in wildlife and livestock and rodent borne diseases.

International context

Zoonoses are important to signal and control in international context. RIVM collaborates in many international activities, coordinates international projects related to zoonoses and advices international bodies such as European Food Safety Authorithy (EFSA), European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), World Health Organization (WHO)and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) related topics on zoonoses.


Girl with chicken in arms

Zoonoses film

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