Equine Zoonoses, Funny-Sounding Word for an Ugly Reality: Diseases You Can Catch From Your Horse

If we need a reason other than compassion to pay attention to the health of non-human animals, consider the impact of zoonoses on human health.  
According to the NCZVED (National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases), a division of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Approximately 75% of recently emerging infectious diseases affecting humans are diseases of animal origin; approximately 60% of all human pathogens are zoonotic.

In other words, a majority of emerging infectious diseases and pathogens affecting human beings are zoonotic.  

zoonotic disease is a disease of non-human animals that can be transmitted to humans by direct or indirect contact, or a disease that usually affects non-human animals but can also infect humans.  Rabies is a zoonotic disease that readily comes to mind, but influenza is also a disease we share with our fellow animals.

The Wikipedia entry for “zoonosis” currently lists over 60 zoonotic diseases but states that this list is “by no means complete.”  Another list of zoonotic diseases found here, was created by Dr. Christopher W. Olsen, Assistant Professor of Public Health, and Fellow, University of Wisconsin Teaching Academy.

People most at risk of contracting zoonotic disease are children, pregnant women, the immuno-compromised, and veterinarians and other animal health workers who are in contact with sick animals every day.  Here is my (by no means complete) attempt at a list of equine zoonoses and the most likely means of transmission from horse to human.  I use “environment” to mean anything that horses touch, that touches horses or that touches things that horse touch, including hands, soil, grooming tools, shovels, manure forks, clothing, boots and shoes, stall walls, paddock pipes, truck tires, etc.:

  • Hendra virus (direct exposure to infected tissues)
  • Equine encephalitis (horse-to-mosquito-to-human transmission; also, possible transmission from contact with infected blood and cerebrospinal fluid)
  • Brucellosis (contact with open, infected lesion on horse)
  • Clostridium difficile (no reported case of horse-to-human transmission, but very little reporting has been done; transmission would likely be fecal-to-oral)
  • Salmonellosis  (contact with infected horse meat; or veterinary contact with infected horse)
  • Cryptosporidiosis (contact with infected feces and tissue)
  • Leptospirosis (direct contact with blood, urine, or tissues from infected animals; through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth; or through a cut in the skin)
  • Yersiniosis (infected horsemeat-to-animal-to-human; or human consumption of infected horsemeat)
  • Tuberculosis  (very rare disease in horses, but could potentially be transmitted to humans by some unidentified vector)
  • Campylobacteriosis  (human consumption of infected horsemeat)
  • E. coli  (fecal to oral; and human consumption of infected horsemeat)
  • Dermatophytosis/ringworm (direct contact; or horse-to-environment-to-human)
  • Rhodococcus equi (route of infection obscure, but transmission from horse-to-human has been established) 
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) (direct contact with horse; or horse-to-environment-to-human)
  • Rabies (horse-to-human via saliva)
  • Anthrax  (contact with infected animals, their products, and inhalation of anthrax spores)
  • Giardiasis (direct contact or via infected water)  
  • Dermatophilosis/rain rot  (direct contact with infected horse)
  • Cryptosporidiosis  (direct contact with infected horse)
  • Influenza  (though scientists currently do not believe humans can catch the flu from horses, the H7 serotype of the influenza virus, taken from Florida racehorses in 1973, may offer clues on how the virus jumps from one species to another) 
  • Borna Disease  (consumption of infected, raw horse meat)
  • Meliodiosis/Glanders/Farcy-one of the oldest diseases known to man (direct contact with infected horse; horse-to-environment-to-human; consumption of infected meat; or inhalation)
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