Zoonoses are infections  that are naturally transmissible directly or indirectly between animals and humans. Domestic animals, farm animals, wild animals or rodents such as mice and rats, who may or may not be affected themselves, carry zoonotic diseases. 

Humans can be exposed to zoonotic organisms directly via contact with contaminated animals or animal products or indirectly via consumption of contaminated drinking water and food or via contact with a contaminated environment, such as children's sandpits and swimming water.  Insects such as mosquitos, lice, fleas or ticks transmit some diseases. We call this insect or tick a ‘vector’ (from the Latin word for carrier).

Zoonoses originating from wildlife sources and transmitted by arthropods such as ticks or mosquitos 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 in the vicinity of wildlife such as migrating waterfowl, deer and fox populations. Recent zoonotic outbreaks of importance include avian influenza in poultry in 2003 and Q fever epidemic in 2007-2010.  Next to the treats of endemic diseases, such as Q-fever, new zoonotic diseases emerge in the Netherlands. New diseases such as Seoulvirus-infections via kept rats, tick-borne encephalitis infections via ticks, and in animals Brucella canis and Brucella suis have been found in the past few years.   

One Health approach

An appropriate response to emerging zoonoses requires close cooperation between medical and veterinary professionals. To share, assess and respond to signals of new and re-emerging zoonotic infections, a systematic One Health approach was developed and officially instituted in the Netherlands. More information about One Health.

RIVM’s research focusses on livestock-, wildlife- and vector-borne zoonoses on the animal-human interface. RIVM has expertise in the field of parasitic zoonoses and provides policy advice to 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 collaboration

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

Zoonoses film

Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases spread between animals and humans. RIVM short film on Zoonoses describes how people can get zoonotic diseases and RIVM role in the control of communicable infectious diseases.

Zoonoses animation

(On-screen title: How can animals make you ill? An animation. Drawings of various animals appear. Voice-over:)



VOICE-OVER: Animals may carry bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Some of these micro-organisms can be transferred from animals to people

and may cause diseases. Such diseases are called zoonoses.

People can come into contact with pathogens from animals in different ways.

Via food,

direct contact

or the environment.

They can also be transmitted through little creatures,

such as ticks and mosquitoes,

that can transfer diseases from an animal to a human.

These are known as vectors.

Proper hygiene can often prevent people from catching a zoonosis.

Make sure you prepare meat and other raw products in a suitable manner.

Always wash your hands after direct contact with animals.

And check yourself for ticks when you have been in the countryside.

(On-screen text: National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. www.rivm.nl/zoonoses.)