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Updated on 04/02/2020


Definition and presentation

Keywords : Zoonosis, Animal diseases

As is the case for humans, animal health can be threatened by various pathogens (bacteria, viruses, parasites). Some of these pathogens are specific to one or several different animal species, while others can infect both animals and humans. These latter are responsible for diseases known as zoonoses (singular: zoonosis). Certain ANSES laboratories are specialised in zoonoses, and some of them hold national or European reference mandates in the field. Below is a definition of this particular type of disease and a presentation of the role of the Agency in this domain.

The term “zoonosis” comprises a wide range of diseases. Some zoonoses target the digestive system (salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis, etc.), while others can affect therespiratory system(avian flu, SARS, etc.), the liver (hepatitis E virus), the nervous system (rabies), or several organs at once.

Their severity in humans can be highly variable depending on the disease itself (the pathogen can be more or less virulent) or it can depend on the infected individual, and their particular susceptibility to the pathogen. This is often the case in people with a weak immune system (individuals who are immunocompromised or taking immunosuppressant drugs, young children, elderly people, pregnant women).


How are zoonoses transmitted?

The ways in which zoonoses can be transmitted to humans are diverse. Certain zoonotic agents are transmitted through direct contact between humans and animals (rabies virus, avian flu, etc.), while others are transmitted by the environment (water, soil, etc.) or via foods contaminated by an animal or its faeces (salmonella, toxoplasmosis, the anisakis parasitic worm, etc.). In addition, some zoonoses can also be transmitted from one infected individual to another.


What is ANSES doing with regard to zoonoses?

In its laboratories, some of which hold specific zoonosis reference mandates, ANSES conducts research programmes and develops diagnostic tools for the detection and surveillance of these pathogens. This work helps to expand knowledge about zoonoses and their interactions with hosts (virulence factors, mechanisms of action, etc.), and on factors favouring transgression of the species barrier, etc., all of which helps improve understanding and in the end makes it possible to exercise more effective control over these pathogens. 

As part of their national, European and international reference mandates, the Agency's laboratories also coordinate official surveillance networks for a certain number of zoonotic agents (salmonella, listeria, rabies, tuberculosis, etc.). For a five-year period that began on 1 January 2018, ANSES has been the coordinator of the "One Health" European Joint Programme (EJP), which aims to acquire new knowledge in the areas of foodborne zoonoses, antimicrobial resistance and emerging zoonotic threats.

Additionally, through expert assessments conducted with its Expert Committee on animal health, and its Expert Committee on the assessment of biological food risks, the Agency evaluates the risks linked to micro-organisms, including those which cause zoonoses. This assessment work can be used by the public authorities for drafting regulations for the management of the risks linked to these agents.