Do Not Pet the Wildlife: Diseases You Can Get From Nature

Touching wildlife might seem like a harmless impulse, but it’s really important not to. First off, imagine strolling through a serene forest, and suddenly, you encounter… Alexander Gabriel - October 11, 2023

Touching wildlife might seem like a harmless impulse, but it’s really important not to. First off, imagine strolling through a serene forest, and suddenly, you encounter a majestic deer. Resist the urge to pet it, because wildlife can bite or scratch when they feel threatened, and a deer hoof to the face is nobody’s idea of a fun souvenir! Secondly, many critters carry diseases that could jump to humans with a simple touch. So, while that fluffy squirrel might look adorable, it could be harboring germs that turn your outdoor adventure into an unexpected doctor’s visit. Unfortunately, it’s not just wild animals, but also domesticated animals that can harbor serious diseases. In these instances, it’s important we practice common hygiene practices to prevent illness. So, instead of trying to make furry friends, let’s cherish them from a safe and respectful distance – it’s a wild world out there!

National Geographic


Rabies is a viral disease that affects mammals, including humans. It is primarily contracted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal, with the virus being transmitted through saliva. This potentially fatal disease is caused by the rabies virus, which attacks the central nervous system and leads to severe neurological symptoms. Without prompt medical intervention, rabies can be lethal. In terms of statistics, rabies is a global concern, with an estimated 59,000 human deaths annually worldwide, primarily in regions with limited access to medical care. Most cases of rabies occur in Asia and Africa, and dogs are the primary source of transmission in developing countries. Vaccination and post-exposure prophylaxis are paramount in preventing the spread of rabies and saving lives.


Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome From Rodents

Hantavirus infection presents with a range of symptoms that can be severe and potentially life-threatening. These symptoms include fever, muscle aches, fatigue, and respiratory issues, which may progress to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), characterized by severe respiratory distress, low blood pressure, and a high fatality rate. Hantaviruses are typically transmitted to humans through exposure to rodent urine, droppings, or saliva, or by inhaling dust contaminated with these substances. It is crucial to take preventive measures to avoid contracting hantavirus, such as ensuring proper ventilation when cleaning areas infested by rodents, wearing protective clothing, and using gloves, masks, and disinfectants. Minimizing contact with rodents and their habitats, such as sealing up cracks and holes in homes, practicing good sanitation, and storing food securely, can significantly reduce the risk of hantavirus infection.


West Nile Virus From Mosquitoes

West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease that can vary in severity from mild to severe. It presents with a range of symptoms, with the majority of infected individuals experiencing no noticeable effects. However, in some cases, the virus can cause flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, body aches, and a skin rash. In severe cases, West Nile virus can lead to neurological complications such as encephalitis or meningitis, which can be life-threatening. The virus is primarily transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes, with birds serving as the main reservoir host. West Nile virus remains a concern in the United States and other regions. there were thousands of reported cases of West Nile virus each year, with varying degrees of severity. Public health efforts, including mosquito control and public awareness campaigns, play a critical role in mitigating the risk of West Nile virus transmission.


Zika Virus From Mosquitoes

Zika virus is primarily transmitted through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes. When these mosquitoes bite an infected person, they become carriers of the virus and can subsequently transmit it to others. Zika is known for causing a spectrum of symptoms that range from mild to severe. Common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. Although the symptoms are usually mild and short-lived, Zika infection during pregnancy can lead to birth defects in the unborn child, including microcephaly. Specific cases of Zika virus outbreaks have occurred in various regions, including the Americas, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands, garnering global attention due to its association with these birth defects. Public health measures, such as mosquito control and travel advisories, have been critical in containing the spread of Zika and protecting vulnerable populations.

NBC News

Avian Bird Flu

Avian bird flu, or avian influenza, is transmitted primarily through contact with infected birds and their respiratory secretions, feces, or contaminated surfaces. It can affect both wild and domesticated birds, and in some cases, it can jump to humans who come into close contact with infected birds or their environments. The symptoms in humans can range from mild, flu-like symptoms to severe respiratory distress, and, in some instances, it has resulted in fatalities. Specific avian flu outbreaks have occurred in various parts of the world, with notable cases in Asia, Europe, and North America. To prevent its spread, countries often implement policies that include culling infected birds, quarantining affected areas, and monitoring bird populations. Additionally, strict biosecurity measures are essential in poultry farms, and vaccination of birds can be employed as a preventive measure.

EFSA – European Union


Salmonellosis is a bacterial infection caused by various strains of Salmonella. It is commonly contracted by consuming contaminated food, especially raw or undercooked eggs, poultry, and dairy products, as well as through cross-contamination when handling these items. The symptoms of salmonellosis typically include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, and vomiting, and they can range from mild to severe. In most cases, the infection is self-limiting and resolves without medical treatment, but in severe cases, or for vulnerable populations, such as the very young, elderly, or immunocompromised individuals, medical intervention may be necessary. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Salmonella is estimated to cause about 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths annually in the United States.

Tehran Times

Brucellosis From Infected Animals

Brucellosis is a bacterial infection caused by various species of Brucella, primarily affecting animals but occasionally transmitted to humans. People can contract brucellosis through direct contact with infected animals, their tissues, or products like unpasteurized milk or cheese. The infection presents with a range of symptoms, including fever, fatigue, joint pain, and muscle aches. Preventing brucellosis involves practicing good hygiene and avoiding consumption of raw or undercooked animal products. Vaccination of livestock and effective control measures in animal husbandry are also important for reducing the prevalence of Brucella in animals. If diagnosed, brucellosis can be treated with a combination of antibiotics, which is typically a lengthy process and requires strict adherence to the prescribed regimen.

Delta County Independent

Tularemia From Infected Animals

Tularemia, caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, is a potentially severe infectious disease. It manifests with a range of symptoms, depending on the route of transmission, which can include skin ulcers, swollen lymph nodes, fever, chills, and respiratory issues. Treatment for tularemia typically involves antibiotics, with early diagnosis and intervention crucial for a successful recovery. Specific outbreaks of tularemia have occurred, often associated with increased contact with infected animals or contaminated water sources. These outbreaks can result in clusters of cases, which may strain local healthcare systems. Public health measures, such as the promotion of personal protective equipment when handling animals or engaging in outdoor activities in endemic areas, are critical for preventing tularemia.


Leptospirosis from Rat Urine

Leptospirosis is transmitted primarily through contact with water or soil contaminated with the urine of infected animals, particularly rodents. It can also be contracted through direct contact with infected animals or their tissues, making it a zoonotic disease with a potential for human infection. The symptoms of leptospirosis can vary from mild to severe. It often includes fever, chills, muscle aches, and jaundice, among others. Early diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics like doxycycline or penicillin are integral in effectively managing the infection. According to the World Health Organization, there are an estimated 1.03 million cases of leptospirosis and around 58,900 deaths globally each year. Preventive measures include minimizing exposure to contaminated water, practicing good hygiene, and maintaining rodent control in high-risk areas.


Q Fever From Livestock

Q fever is contracted through inhalation of airborne particles contaminated with Coxiella burnetii. These particles can originate from the excretions of infected animals, particularly livestock, such as cattle, sheep, and goats. In humans, Q fever can present with a wide range of symptoms, which can be acute or chronic, including high fever, severe headaches, muscle pain, and in some cases, pneumonia or hepatitis. Specific outbreaks of Q fever have been reported in various regions, often associated with agricultural settings and the handling of infected animals or their products. These outbreaks have led to clusters of cases, making Q fever an important public health concern in certain areas. Preventive measures include proper hygiene and the use of personal protective equipment when working with animals or in environments at risk of Q fever contamination. Additionally, vaccination may be recommended for individuals at high risk of exposure.



Anthrax can be contracted from wildlife through contact with contaminated animal carcasses, soil, or water sources in regions where the bacterium Bacillus anthracis is present. In humans, it can manifest with various symptoms. Depending on the route of transmission, symptoms include skin ulcers, fever, fatigue, and respiratory distress. In severe cases, it can lead to shock and death. Treatment for anthrax typically involves antibiotics, with prompt diagnosis and intervention being critical for a successful outcome. In terms of statistics, the incidence of anthrax in humans varies by region, and it is more common in certain parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The development of anthrax vaccines and the implementation of surveillance systems in endemic regions have been instrumental in preventing the spread of this bacterial infection.

Sharp Health Care

Mpox (Formerly Known as Monkey Pox)

Monkeypox is a viral disease that shares similarities with smallpox but is less severe. It is typically contracted from wildlife, particularly rodents, through direct contact with their bodily fluids, such as urine or blood, or through the consumption of undercooked bushmeat. In humans, monkeypox causes fever, a rash similar to that of smallpox, and swollen lymph nodes, among other symptoms. Although the disease is usually self-limiting, antiviral medications and supportive care can be administered for severe cases. Monkeypox is primarily reported in parts of Central and West Africa, with sporadic outbreaks and cases.


Plague from Rats and Fleas

The plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, is a highly infectious and potentially deadly disease. It is primarily transmitted through the bite of infected fleas that commonly infest rodents such as rats. In humans, the symptoms can vary, with the two main forms being bubonic and pneumonic plague. Bubonic plague is characterized by swollen lymph nodes, while pneumonic plague affects the lungs and leads to severe respiratory symptoms. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are still thousands of reported cases of plague each year, primarily in Africa. Notable historical cases include the Black Death in the 14th century, which had devastating consequences, and more recent outbreaks have been reported in Madagascar and the western United States. Prompt treatment with antibiotics is essential for the successful management of plague.


Lyme Disease From Ticks

Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. It is primarily transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks, commonly known as deer ticks. This disease is characterized by a range of symptoms, including fever, fatigue, headache, and a distinctive circular rash known as erythema migrans. If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to more severe symptoms, such as joint pain, neurological issues, and cardiac complications. In the United States, it’s the most prevalent vector-borne disease, with over 30,000 confirmed cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year. However, the actual number of cases may be significantly higher, as many instances go undiagnosed or unreported. Timely diagnosis and treatment are essential in preventing the progression of Lyme disease and its potential long-term complications.


Bartonellosis (Cat scratch disease)

Bartonellosis, commonly known as cat scratch fever, is primarily transmitted to humans through the bite of infected fleas, ticks, or lice. Cat fleas are often the most common vector. The symptoms of bartonellosis can vary widely, including fever, fatigue, muscle pain, and swollen lymph nodes, making diagnosis challenging. Treatment typically involves antibiotics such as doxycycline or azithromycin. While specific statistics may not be readily available due to underdiagnosis and misclassification, bartonellosis is recognized as an emerging infectious disease of concern, especially among immunocompromised individuals. In addition to being transmitted by arthropod vectors, some Bartonella species, like Bartonella henselae, can also be transmitted through cat scratches or bites, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as “cat scratch disease.”

UCI School of Biological Sciences


Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection caused by the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii. It is primarily transmitted to humans through the ingestion of undercooked or contaminated food, water, or soil, as well as through contact with cat feces, the definitive host of the parasite. Toxoplasmosis can also have a significant impact on animal populations. Many warm-blooded animals can be intermediate hosts and can become infected by consuming contaminated food or water. In some cases, the disease can be severe and even fatal for these animals. Statistics indicate that a large percentage of the global population has been exposed to the parasite, though the symptoms are often mild or go unnoticed in healthy individuals. However, the infection can pose serious risks to pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.


Trichinosis from Game

Trichinosis, caused by the roundworm Trichinella, is contracted by consuming undercooked or raw meat, particularly pork or game meats, contaminated with the larvae of the parasite. The symptoms of trichinosis can vary in severity. Initial symptoms including nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort, followed by muscle pain, swelling, and fever as the larvae invade muscle tissues. Early diagnosis is essential for effective treatment. Treatment typically involves antiparasitic medications like albendazole or mebendazole, as well as anti-inflammatory drugs to manage muscle pain. The incidence of trichinosis in the United States has significantly decreased due to improved food safety practices and regulations, but it remains a concern in certain regions.

Edgeworth Animal Medical Centre

Psittacosis from Parrots

Psittacosis, also known as parrot fever, is contracted by inhaling respiratory secretions or dust from dried feces of infected birds, particularly parrots, pigeons, and poultry. It can also be transmitted through direct contact with infected birds or their environments. The symptoms of psittacosis in humans typically include fever, headache, and respiratory symptoms like cough and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia and other complications. Early diagnosis is important for effective treatment, which often involves antibiotics like doxycycline or tetracycline. While specific statistics may vary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that psittacosis cases are relatively rare in the United States, but monitoring and awareness are essential to prevent outbreaks, particularly among bird handlers, pet owners, and individuals in close contact with birds.

NADIS – National Animal Disease Information Service

Cryptosporidiosis from Infected Animals

Cryptosporidiosis is contracted through the ingestion of the protozoan parasite Cryptosporidium. This protozoan is commonly found in contaminated water sources, such as lakes, rivers, and swimming pools. It can also be contracted through contact with infected animals and their feces. Symptoms of cryptosporidiosis typically include severe diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and nausea, often accompanied by a low-grade fever. In healthy individuals, the infection is usually self-limiting, but it can be prolonged and more severe in immunocompromised individuals. Treatment mainly involves supportive care, as there are no specific antiparasitic medications for cryptosporidiosis. Cryptosporidiosis is a significant cause of waterborne illness in the United States, with thousands of reported cases each year.

The New York Times

Ebola Virus

The Ebola virus is a highly contagious and deadly pathogen that is transmitted to humans through close contact with the bodily fluids of infected individuals or through the handling of contaminated objects or animals. It causes a severe and often fatal illness, with symptoms including fever, weakness, muscle pain, and hemorrhaging. Specific outbreaks of Ebola have occurred in several African countries, with notable ones in West Africa between 2014 and 2016 and in the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent years. These outbreaks have had significant public health, economic, and social impacts, often straining healthcare systems and requiring international assistance. Efforts to control the virus involve isolating infected individuals, tracing and monitoring contacts, and implementing strict infection control measures. Vaccines and experimental treatments have also been developed to combat the disease.

Only My Health

Giardiasis from Lakes

Giardiasis is transmitted through the ingestion of the microscopic parasite Giardia lamblia. This parasite is commonly found in contaminated water sources, such as rivers and lakes, as well as in food or surfaces exposed to fecal contamination. The symptoms of giardiasis include diarrhea, stomach cramps, and nausea, which can last for weeks if not treated. To avoid giardiasis, it is important to drink clean, treated water, avoid swallowing water from natural sources during outdoor activities, practice good personal hygiene, and properly wash and prepare food to prevent fecal-oral contamination.


Dengue fever from Mosquitoes

Dengue fever is transmitted through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes, primarily Aedes aegypti. These mosquitoes become infected when they bite a person already carrying the dengue virus in their bloodstream. The symptoms of dengue fever include high fever, severe headache, joint and muscle pain, rash, and bleeding. This can lead to severe dengue or dengue hemorrhagic fever in some cases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dengue is a major global health concern. There are an estimated 100 million cases of dengue reported annually in over 100 countries. To avoid dengue, use insect repellents, wear protective clothing, and use mosquito nets or screens, particularly during peak mosquito activity periods. Eliminating mosquito breeding sites, such as standing water in containers, also plays a significant role in controlling the spread of dengue.

Dr. Axe

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever From Brown Dog Ticks

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a tick-borne disease caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected American dog ticks, Rocky Mountain wood ticks, or brown dog ticks. The symptoms of the disease typically include fever, severe headache, muscle pain. Many times, a characteristic spotted rash often begins on the wrists and ankles. If left untreated, it can lead to severe complications, including organ damage and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are several hundred cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever reported in the United States each year, with a higher incidence in the south-central and southeastern regions.

UGA Today

Chagas Disease from “Kissing Bugs”

Chagas disease, caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, is primarily transmitted through the bite of infected triatomine bugs, commonly known as “kissing bugs.” These insects often defecate after feeding, leaving the parasite in their feces to enter the host’s bloodstream through the bite wound or mucous membranes. Symptoms of Chagas disease can vary. Acute cases show fever, fatigue, and swelling at the infection site, while chronic cases may lead to severe heart and digestive complications. Treatment with antiparasitic medications like benznidazole or nifurtimox is most effective in the initial stages of the disease. Chagas disease is endemic in parts of Latin America. However, due to migration, cases have been reported in other regions as well.


Mycobacterium Marinum Infection (Fish Tank Granuloma)

Mycobacterium marinum infection, also known as fish tank granuloma, is typically transmitted to humans through contact with contaminated water. It can also be transmitted through aquariums harboring infected fish or their environments. It can result in skin lesions, nodules, or ulcers, often on the hands or fingers of those handling aquarium water or cleaning fish tanks. While the infection usually remains localized, it can be chronic if left untreated. Treatment usually involves antibiotics like clarithromycin or doxycycline. Specific statistics on the prevalence of Mycobacterium marinum infections can be challenging to obtain, as many cases go unreported. Proper aquarium hygiene and safety precautions, such as wearing gloves and practicing good wound care, are great ways of preventing fish tank granuloma.

The Spruce Pets

Rat Bite Fever

Rat Bite Fever is a potentially serious bacterial infection that can result from the bite or scratch of an infected rodent. While it may not always manifest severe symptoms, if left untreated, it can lead to life-threatening complications, including endocarditis and septicemia. Treatment for Rat Bite Fever typically involves antibiotics like penicillin or doxycycline, administered promptly upon diagnosis. To prevent Rat Bite Fever, it is important to exercise caution when handling or coming into contact with rodents. This is particularly true of those that may carry the bacteria. Proper wound care, disinfection, and seeking medical attention if bitten or scratched by a rodent are great precautions.

Pathology Outlines

Histoplasmosis from Bats

Histoplasmosis is a fungal infection caused by inhaling the microscopic spores of the Histoplasma capsulatum fungus. This fungus is commonly found in soil enriched with bird or bat droppings. This environmental fungus can become airborne during activities such as digging in contaminated soil or exploring caves inhabited by bats. Histoplasmosis primarily affects the lungs, with symptoms that can range from mild respiratory discomfort to severe illness. In some cases, the infection can spread to other organs, particularly in individuals with weakened immune systems. Diagnosis is often made through specialized laboratory tests, and treatment involves antifungal medications, like itraconazole or amphotericin B, particularly for severe cases.


Blastomycosis from Squirrels, Skunks, & Rodents

Blastomycosis can be contracted from wild animals when humans come into contact with soil or environments contaminated with the fungal spores of Blastomyces dermatitidis. In areas where the fungus is endemic, such as certain parts of North America, wild animals like rodents, squirrels, and skunks can carry and shed the fungus in their feces or urine. People may inadvertently inhale the airborne spores when disturbing contaminated soil during outdoor activities or when handling infected animal tissues. This environmental exposure to fungal spores from wild animals is a significant risk factor for blastomycosis.



The fungus Sporothrix schenckii, responsible for this infection, can thrive in the environment and is commonly associated with plant matter. Wild animals like rodents, cats, and armadillos can carry the fungus in their claws and skin. Humans may become infected when they sustain scratches or puncture wounds from contaminated animal claws. Infection can also occur when handling infected animal tissues. This zoonotic transmission of sporotrichosis shows the importance of taking precautions and maintaining good hygiene when interacting with animals in the wild. This is particularly true in regions where the disease is more prevalent.

Farm Health Online


Campylobacter bacteria are commonly found in the intestinal tracts of poultry, cattle, and other livestock. When animal products such as raw meat or unpasteurized milk are not handled or cooked properly, these bacteria can be transmitted to humans. This can ultimately cause illness. Additionally, direct contact with infected animals, such as petting zoos or handling backyard poultry, can result in the transfer of Campylobacter from the animals to humans through contaminated feces or feathers.

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