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About the Covid-19 pandemic: zoonoses

21.09.2021: Covid-19, a new coronavirus, provides a privileged opportunity to reflect on the notion of both emerging disease and zoonosis.

Covid-19, due to a new viral agent, a virus belonging to the coronavirus family, identified as SARS-CoV-2, is an emerging disease, as is SARS, due to a related beta-coronavirus.

For the World Organization for Animal Health. An emerging disease is "a new infection, caused by the evolution or modification of an existing pathogen or parasite, resulting in a change in hosts, vectors, pathogenicity or strain." It can also be a previously unreported infectious disease.

Which diseases fall under the scope of zoonoses?
Zoonoses are diseases that are transmitted from vertebrate animals to humans and vice versa. The transmission of these diseases is done either directly, during a contact between an animal and a human being, or indirectly by food or through a vector (insect, arachnid...).

Diseases common to humans and certain animal species, without transmission between species, do not fall within the scope of zoonoses. (tetanus)


The severe form of covid-19 is manifested by pneumonia. SARS-CoV-2 is very similar to a virus detected in a bat.

Several publications suggest that the pangolin may be involved as an intermediate host between bats and humans. To date, formal proof has not been provided, but the presumption is such that it is safe to say that the pandemic is a zoonosis. Today, the transmission is exclusively human-to-human, the contagion taking place by respiratory route.


Importance of zoonoses
According to the World Organization for Animal Health :

60% of human infectious diseases are zoonotic,
75% of emerging infectious diseases of humans are zoonotic.
Zoonotic diseases affect 2.4 billion humans each year and cause 2.2 million deaths.

Some zoonoses, such as salmonellosis, leptospirosis and rabies, are common. Others, such as arboviruses, glanders, plague, are rarer, or more localized geographically.

The severity of zoonoses varies:

benign (vaccinia, Newcastle disease)
sometimes fatal (rabies), more often serious (brucellosis, tuberculosis, salmonellosis, leptospirosis, tularemia, listeriosis, Q fever, psittacosis, rickettsiosis, botulism, anthrax, chikungunya, viral encephalitis, glanders, dengue, Ebola).
The economic impact is very important for the livestock industry and for public health budgets (highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1, now covid-19), especially since their number is very high and continues to grow.

Bacterial resistance to antibiotics can be considered as a zoonosis and treated as such.


The fight against zoonoses
The fight against zoonoses requires the actions of veterinary medicine when the disease is expressed in domestic animals, whether it is treatment or prevention.

In these areas, veterinary medicine is above all preventive.