Zoonoses have claimed many lives across the globe in the last few years. COVID-19 pandemic has been the worst among them all for having affected millions of people, causing over half a million deaths and collapsing the global economy. The consequences of these diseases have made it inevitable for man to study and understand the significance of zoonoses.
Man has been encroaching upon animal lives and habitat for years. The rise in such interactions has given birth to Zoonoses. The word ‘Zoonosis’ was introduced by Rudolf Virchow in 1880 to include collectively the diseases shared in nature by man and animals. In 1959, the World Health Organization officially recognised it and defined that Zoonoses are those diseases and infections which are naturally transmitted between vertebrate animals and man. Not only are these diseases a major public health problem, but are also hurdles to food security – especially to the food of animal origin.
How does Zoonotic transmission occur between humans and animals?
Zoonotic transmission can occur when humans come in contact with animals in any form. It can occur during contact between humans with their pets, or while farming, hunting, butchering or consuming the animal or even during research contact with animals. It can even occur through indirect contact. Which means, a person coming in contact with areas where animals usually live and roam, he/she is at risk of being infected by zoonoses.
Factors Influencing the Prevalence of Zoonoses
The growing population of humans, limited availability of resources, and greed of humans has caused them to exploit new territories and natural resources. Large scale expansion of agricultural and engineering resources, construction of dams, artificial lakes, irrigation schemes, clearing of forests -all these lead to changing of the biting habits of the blood-sucking vectors and alteration in the population of reservoir animals which has led to the spread of such diseases.
Working in close contact with animals
Increasing demand for food has encouraged many farmers to rear animals for meat. Diseases, especially if it is viral in nature can easily affect humans and animals alike. A potential pandemic caused because of such occupation may trigger again from China because of its Pig farms. The G4 virus has contaminated a chunk of the pig population in China and has started transmitting to humans working at the pig farms. The virus comes from the family of H1N1 Swine Flu virus.
Increased trade in animal products
The demand for animal products such as wool, bone meal, meat, fur etc. has risen with the increase in population. Such trade increases the chances for triggering pandemics.
Zoonotic Diseases in India
India is among the top geographical hotspots where zoonotic diseases are a major public health issue. This is causing a high burden of morbidity and mortality. According to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), about 75% of emerging and re-emerging infections are zoonotic, and new pathogens (viruses) continue to emerge and spread across countries.
Major public health zoonotic diseases in India include Rabies, Brucellosis, Toxoplasmosis, Cysticercosis, Echinococcosis, Japanese Encephalitis (JE), Plague, Leptospirosis, Scrub typus, Nipah, Trypanosomiasis, Kyasanur forest disease (KFD) and Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF).
Challenges to Controlling Zoonoses in India
India has the second-largest population in the world. However, the landmass of the country is not proportionate to it. In addition to this, the country houses the largest number of people living below the poverty line. These circumstances have led to increased dependence on animal rearing as a means of livelihood. The intimate human-animal contact puts them at risk for this category of diseases.
Lack of awareness
A large part of the population in the country remain unaware of the basic hygiene routine to be followed. This has however started to change because of extensive awareness programs by the government as well as CSR initiatives by the corporates in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
Apart from the hygiene practices, the people in India also lack awareness about the importance of immediate medical consultation. The attitude of the majority of Indians towards ailments is highly ignorant. People do not visit doctors until the symptoms become unbearable. By then it might be too late to prevent the spread of diseases.
Ways to Prevent the Spread of Zoonoses
Zoonoses comprise a large percentage of all newly identified infectious diseases as well as existing infectious diseases. The outbreak of such diseases causes severe harm to not just physical health but mental health as well as overall immunity of the population. It can also cause loss of productivity among people leading to major economic losses as well. It is, therefore, crucial to study their nature and transmission patterns to improve global health security.
In order to achieve this, the following measures need to be put in place:
1. Coordination between physicians, veterinarians, and epidemiologists should be strengthened.
2. Technology should be used effectively. Each district and state in the country needs to be linked for enabling efficient collection real-time data on the activity of pathogens and diseases.
3. International Organisations such as the WHO, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) should work in close collaboration to carry out extensive research in the field to prevent and manage the threats of such pandemics.
4. The international community should also push for more transparency in the working of organisations such as WHO.