Scientists Say: Zoonosis

This is a disease that spreads from animals to people

When birds get the flu, they can sometimes pass it on to people. This type of disease is a zoonosis.

When birds get the flu, they can sometimes pass it on to people. This type of disease is a zoonosis. 

E. Mullins/Flickr/(CC-BY-2.0)


(noun, “Zoh-WAH-no-sis” or “ZOH-wuh-NO-sis”, plural, zoonoses “Zoh-WAH-no-sees” or “ZOH-wuh-NO-sees”)

Any disease that is originally found in an animal that then spreads to people. These illnesses can come from dogs, birds, bats and other animal species. Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome or MERS is a zoonosis. So are some kinds of influenza.

In a sentence

Ebola is a zoonosis that may move from bats to people. 

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Power Words

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Ebola  A family of viruses that cause a deadly disease in people. Most cases occur in Africa and Asia. Its symptoms include headaches, fever, muscle pain and extensive bleeding. The infection spreads from person to person (or animal to some person) through contact with infected body fluids.

infection    A disease that can spread from one organism to another.

influenza (or flu)   A highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory passages causing fever and severe aching. It often occurs as an epidemic.

respiratory  Of or referring to parts of the body involved in breathing (called the respiratory system). It includes the lungs, nose, sinuses, throat and other large airways.

species  A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring that can survive and reproduce.

zoonosis  (plural: zoonoses) Any disease that originates in nonhuman animals and is later contracted by people. Many zoonotic diseases also spread among a host of non-human species. For instance, the type of swine flu that sickened people throughout the world in 2009 also infected marine mammals, including sea otters.

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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