Animal Epidemics



When we hear the word “epidemic”, some epidemics that killed millions of people over time pop up in our minds, but have you ever thought about diseases that killed thousands of animals? Animal epidemics increase in number and frequency over time; some target rare and threatened animals, and may lead to their extinction.


Sarcoptic mange

Sarcoptic mange is a common parasitic disease that affects more than 100 species. It is caused by Sarcoptes scabiei parasite, which transmits rapidly among animals, just by skin contact! It burrows under animal skin, causing severe itching and scratching, which leads to the spread of infection. It was believed that this epidemic was the main cause of red wolves extinction in Bornholm, Denmark, 1980. While the treatment of domestic animals is nowadays easier using certain medicines and dips, the danger keeps growing uncontrollably in the wild.



Ebola killed over 10,000 humans and apes; being a fatal disease, Ebola causes fever and severe bleeding. Outbreaks were firstly reported in gorillas, where 95% of the infected animals were killed. The number of animals decreased in the past due to hunting, but now this disease increases the risk of their extinction. In 2014, scientists discovered a new safe vaccine and was effective on chimpanzees.


Canine Distemper

Canine distemper affects domestic dogs reared at home and other carnivores in the wild; its outbreaks are markedly increasing in different areas. It killed many black-footed ferrets in Wyoming in 1985, and reappeared again in the 1990s killing many African dogs and over 1000 lions in the Serengeti. As the population of domestic dogs increases, the disease spreads and its severity increases. Dogs in houses are now vaccinated two to three times during their early lives, and the vaccine is repeated annually to ensure the safety of dogs.



Chlamydia affects domestic cats and other animals, such as the koala. It causes respiratory and urinary problems; animals become infertile and blind, ending up dead. It caused a dramatic drop in the koala population from 60,000 in the 1990s, to 10,000 in 2012. A new vaccine is discovered for koala trying to save them from extinction; another vaccination program was established for domestic cats in the high-risk area.


Rift Valley Fever

The Rift Valley Fever (RVF) epidemic has recently hit Sudan, and the virus was first discovered in Rift Valley, Kenya, in 1931, killing thousands of sheep; the infection spread with imported livestock to Egypt in 1977. In the 1990s, it reached Somalia and Tanzania, but it was confined to Africa; in 2000, however, it reached Saudi Arabia and Yemen, also with livestock trade. There are several vaccination programs that should be considered in epidemic areas and other procedures to control its spread.



In December 2019, a new strain of coronavirus, COVID-19, was discovered and within a couple of months have been declared a pandemic, leaving people concerned about their own health and their pets’ as well. You can read more on this pandemic and its relation to animals in Pets and COVID-19 Transmission and Why Bats?, you can also follow the novel coronavirus latest updates.



Human and veterinary medicine have much more in common than they are different. Humans and animals face the same risk of smart minute microorganisms, which can surprisingly confuse the whole world’s past and future!


*The original article was published in SCIplanet, Winter 2020 Issue.

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