If you have been reading news reports on COVID-19, you may have come across the term zoonotic diseases. If you are curious about what exactly zoonotic diseases means, this post is for you!

Zoonotic diseases are caused by harmful germs like viruses, bacterial, parasites, and fungi. Even though the animals appear healthy, they can carry some germs that can be transmitted to people and may cause mild to severe health issues, depending on the zoonotic disease [1].

A large percentage of existing and new diseases in humans have derived from animals. Scientists estimate 6 out of 10 existing infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and this rate increases to 3 out of every 4 for new infectious diseases [1]. The 2005 H5/N1 avian influenza outbreak was the first zoonotic epidemic with high threat potential to unite global bodies in a network to address the threat of zoonoses [2]. 

The recent outbreak of the coronavirus infection is a particularly severe example of how close interactions between humans, animals, and the environment can lead to severe consequences. The exact origin of COVID19, is currently unknown and there is no definitive answer regarding where it came from. However, there is the possibility that this virus likely came from a wet market selling wildlife. These places create the perfect conditions for novel viruses such as COVID‐19 to emerge [3]. 

Recently, Denmark’s entire stock of 17 million mink (roughly three times more minks than people in Denmark) was due to be culled after a mutated coronavirus was found in mink farms. Researchers said culling the animals was necessary, given the virus’s rapid and uncontrolled spread in mink. The virus was detected in more than 200 farms since June, which makes the animals a potential and massive viral source to humans. The mutated virus had been found to weaken the body’s ability to form antibodies, potentially making the current vaccines under development for Covid-19 ineffective. [4]. Denmark was not the only country detecting the virus in mink farms. More than 15,000 minks in the United States have died of the coronavirus since August. Outbreaks have also been detected in mink farms in the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, Greece, Italy. The Netherlands plans to cull its entire mink population by 2021, accelerating plans to end mink farming by 2024. 

The above mentioned facts show us that Humans need to urgently reconsider their relationship with animals. In Open Cages, we fight for animal rights and we had a campaign against factory farming in a covid context earlier this year. Zoonotic diseases have made us realise that we need to reassess these industries, that besides animal suffering, is also a risk to human health. Are you with us? 

[1] CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017) Zoonotic diseases. (Link: https://www.cdc.gov/onehealth)

[2] FAO/OIE/WHO (November 2011) High-level technical meeting to address health risks at the human-animal ecosystems interfaces: Mexico city, Mexico. (Link: http://www.fao.org/3/i3119e/i3119e.pdf

[3] Steven Broad (April 2020) Wildlife Trade, COVID‐19, and Zoonotic Disease Risks. Cambridge, UK: TRAFFIC. Briefing Paper. (Link: https://www.traffic.org/publications/reports/wildlife-trade-covid-19-and-zoonotic-disease-risks-shaping-the-response)

[4] Smriti Mallapaty (November 2020) COVID mink analysis shows mutations are not dangerous — yet. (Link:  https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03218-z)