The COVID-19 pandemic and the outbreak of the West Nile Virus in 2020 show that so-called emerging zoonoses pose a risk to the Netherlands. Zoonoses are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Emerging zoonoses are new or known zoonoses that suddenly emerge or which suddenly have a surge in the number of infections. These emerging zoonoses are the focus of the Zoonoses Report 2020. 

Emerging zoonoses

In the chapter dedicated to emerging zoonoses, the authors of the Zoonoses Report focus on those emerging zoonoses that are significant to the Netherlands. Topics discussed include bird flu and the tick-borne encephalitis virus. The latter virus can cause meningitis through infected ticks. This virus was identified in 12 people in the Netherlands between 2016 and 2020.

Various measures are being taken by the Dutch government to combat emerging zoonoses, such as careful monitoring and mandatory reporting of these types of diseases. The authors of the report also discuss the factors driving the spread of these emerging zoonoses, such as climate change. 

West Nile Virus

The West Nile Virus was first discovered in the Netherlands in a bird (common whitethroat) in September 2020. This virus is found in birds and is transmitted by mosquitoes that feed on the blood of infected birds. These mosquitoes spread the virus to other birds and sometimes also to humans and other mammals, such as horses. The first cases of the virus in humans (8 people) in the Netherlands were identified in October 2020. 

Generally speaking, most people will not fall ill after becoming infected with the virus. Approximately 1 in 5 infected people wild develop mild flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache and muscle pain. Roughly 1% of infected people will become seriously ill, e.g. with encephalitis.

COVID-19 in mink

It has become evident that animals (particularly mink) can also be infected with the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans. The Dutch government took a number of measures to try to prevent the transmission of coronavirus from mink to humans. Despite the measures, the number of infections in mink farms continued to rise. Therefore, a decision was made in 2020 to phase out mink farming in the Netherlands sooner than had previously been agreed. 

About the Zoonoses Report

Each year, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) publishes a report on behalf of the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) that gives an overview of the most significant zoonoses and their incidence in the Netherlands. The report covers those zoonoses that must be reported to the Municipal Public Health Service (GGD) by doctors or to the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority by vets. Policymakers can use this information to adopt targeted measures, if necessary.