The global burden of bacterial and viral zoonotic infections


Corresponding author: L. Christou, Department of Internal Medicine, Medical School, University of Ioannina, Ioannina, 45110, Greece


Clin Microbiol Infect 2011; 17: 326–330


Bacterial and viral zoonotic infections comprise a practically endless, ever-expanding list of pathogens that have the potential to induce human disease of varying severity, with varying means of transmission to humans (including vector-borne and foodborne agents) and of varying epidemiology. Not all theoretically zoonotic pathogens are truly zoonotic in practice, the prime example being influenza viruses; aviann H5N1 influenza remains strictly zoonotic, whereas novel H1N1 influenza displays an anthropocentric cycle that led to a pandemic, despite being of zoonotic origin. The burden of disease induced by zoonotic and viral pathogens is enormous: there are more than ten bacterial zoonoses, each of which affects hundreds of thousands patients annually, often leading to chronic infections and causing significant economic losses of a medical and livestock-related nature. Viral zoonotic agents are constantly emerging or re-emerging, and are associated with outbreaks of limited or expanded geographical spread: the typical trends of viral zoonotic infections, however, is to extend their ecological horizon, sometimes in an unexpected but successful manner, as in the case of West Nile virus, and in other instances less effectively, as was the case, fortunately, in the case of avian influenza. The majority of bacterial and viral zoonotic infections attract disproportionately low scientific and public health interest. Understanding their burden may allow for improved surveillance and prevention measures.