Infectious Diseases

« Back to Animal Health

Infectious Diseases

Diseases, caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa and parasites, have the potential to affect not only human health, but animal health as well. Infectious diseases are those which are transmitted from one individual or species to another through contact with infected individuals or body fluids, contact with contaminated objects, airborne inhalation, ingestion, or through vectors. The AZA Animal Health Committee and Veterinary Scientific Advisory Group recognize that infectious diseases could impact animal populations cared for in AZA-accredited zoos or aquariums. AZA-accredited institutions maintain current infectious disease management plans to ensure staff is educated about the etiology, symptoms, method of transmission and infection protocols for common infectious diseases.

Zoonotic Diseases

Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases that can be transmitted from wild or domestic animals (or vectors) to humans or from humans to wild or domestic animals. Examples of some well known zoonotic diseases include measles, smallpox, influenza, HIV, diptheria, West Nile virus, tuberculosis, salmonella and Lyme disease. AZA Accreditation Standards as well as a list of recommendations developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in conjunction with the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, specify zoonotic disease prevention protocols that should be followed in the care and management ex situ populations of animals.

Medical Wallet Card for Wildlife Professionals
Biologists working with wildlife may be exposed to a variety of disease agents. The U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center has developed a wallet card that wildlife professionals can carry with them to alert medical personnel about potential exposure to zoonotic diseases.


Transmission of infectious diseases may also involve mechanical or biological vectors. Mechanical vectors transmit pathogens stored externally on their body or appendages (e.g. bacteria from horse dung clings to a housefly’s legs) and then passively transfers them elsewhere (e.g. the fly lands on the cheeseburger you are about to eat). Biological vectors, often responsible for serious blood-borne diseases, actively transmit pathogens stored internally to new hosts typically by a biting them.

Common Infectious Diseases

Links to information about several of the more common infectious diseases that affect in situ populations of animals and have the potential to affect animals in zoos and aquariums are provided: