Revisiting Zoonosis as Mild New Bird Flu Reaches Humans

new avian flu spreads from birds to humans, no serious illnesses reported

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Another bird flu has reached humans, though experts say not to worry. The H5N8 avian flu killed 7 million birds in Europe and Asia between Christmas 2020 and January 14 of this year. Many diseases spread from animals to humans.

Flock of birds against the sun
Infectious diseases that jump from animals to humans can be bacterial, viral, or parasitic. Photo By Jarun Ontakrai / Shutterstock

From plague rats to swine flu, the world has dealt with many disease epidemics that started in animals and spread to humans. The process is called zoonosis and a new avian flu has joined its ranks.

In February, Russian health authorities tested 200 people involved in cleaning up a farm that had been stricken with the new bird flu—designated H5N8. Of those 200, just seven seemed to have gotten the virus, though none became ill. Experts say there is currently no cause for concern.

In his video series An Introduction to Infectious Diseases, Dr. Barry Fox, Clinical Professor of Infectious Disease at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, explained zoonosis.

The Catch of the Day

Disease in household pets and zoonotic transmission to humans is common. Dogs can spread rabies and cats can spread cat-scratch disease, but other household pets can also be spreaders of illness.

“Reptiles and amphibians like turtles, lizards, and frogs can carry harmful Salmonella bacteria that can cause intestinal illness,” Dr. Fox said. “In 2013, there was an eight-state outbreak of human Salmonella linked to small turtles. As you might expect, most victims were under age five and owned a benign-looking little pet turtle.”

Why this pattern? Salmonella can be contracted by handling turtles as well as the water and containers in which they live. Dr. Fox said that wearing gloves while cleaning pet environments—and thoroughly washing hands afterwards—is essential. It’s likely that children playing with their turtles failed to keep their hands away from their mouths and eyes afterward and contracted Salmonella. Turtles aren’t the only culprits.

“Around Easter, there are various farms and pet stores showing off cute baby chicks,” Dr. Fox said. “Alas, I’m here to warn you of yet another opportunity for your family to become ill. Birds, baby chicks, and ducks are also sources of infectious diseases, including Salmonella.”


Owning pets requires taking proper precautions to prevent—or at least limit—disease spread. Likewise, when camping, hiking, fishing, and enjoying other wilderness activities, it’s best to be careful while enjoying nature.

“Hantavirus is a rare, but serious disease that humans can contract through contact with infected urine, saliva, or droppings from rodents,” Dr. Fox said. “Dried urine in dust particles carries viruses, and sweeping the dust or pitching a tent in the infected area can cause inhalation of the virus. This can lead to a life-threatening bleeding disorder of the lungs, with no available treatment.”

According to Dr. Fox, since hantavirus was first detected in the United States in 1993, there have been 60 cases of it in California out of 600 nationwide. He also said that about 12% of deer mice in parts of the Southwest are believed to be asymptomatic carriers of the hantavirus, and the deer mouse is the primary reservoir for most human cases.

“As you can imagine, it’s very difficult to seal every crevice in a tent that a mouse can get through,” Dr. Fox said. “Of course, whenever you enter a wilderness area, there are always some risks. You can protect yourself, however, by being mindful of where you pitch your tent, not sleeping on the ground, keeping food in containers, and being alert for evidence of mice in the area.”

For now, the coronavirus remains the foremost public health concern. Additionally, there’s no reason to stop owning pets or enjoying nature; taking normal health precautions while doing both simply prevents another headache to worry about during the pandemic.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily