Zoonotic diseases (or zoonoses) are infectious diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans, via direct or indirect contacts. They represent a major public health problem around the world.

What is a zoonosis or zoonotic disease?

A zoonotic disease (or zoonosis) is a disease or infection caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses or fungi that is transmitted between vertebrate animals and humans.

Transmission occurs through:

  • direct contact (with the saliva, blood, urine or other body fluids of an infected animal)
  • indirect contact (contact with contaminated air droplets, objects or surfaces or through contaminated food or water)
  • bites of infected arthropod vectors (see also vector-borne diseases). 

Due to our close relationship with animals in agriculture, as companions and in the natural environment, zoonoses comprise a large proportion of existing and emerging diseases in humans around the world.

Examples of zoonotic diseases are cat scratch disease, brucellosis, hantavirus disease, rabies, leptospirosis, anthrax, tularaemia, psittacosis, Q fever, echinococcosis, avian and swine influenza, etc.


Sciensano is responsible for the epidemiological surveillance of several zoonotic diseases. Because this is a diverse group of diseases, different services within Sciensano are involved to ensure correct and adapted follow-up. For some zoonotic diseases, Sciensano is also the National Reference Centre (human) or the National Reference Laboratory (animal). 

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