Zoonotic Disease | Infectious Diseases

Infectious Diseases

Zoonotic Disease

UC Davis Health is at the forefront of diseases caused by animals (zoonoses). We deliver exceptional care and participate in research reducing their impact in our community and worldwide.

Medically reviewed by Daniel Dodson, M.D. on Nov. 06, 2023.

Hand holding a glass vial with a tick inside.

Zoonotic Disease Care

You may think it’s unlikely you’ll get sick from an animal, but zoonoses (diseases spread from animals to people) are common. They account for 6 out of every 10 infectious diseases in humans worldwide. Some zoonotic diseases can make you severely ill.

Receiving prompt care from experienced specialists can help you feel better. UC Davis Health’s Division of Infectious Diseases is home to experts specializing in zoonotic infections. We are easy to reach and deliver today’s best available treatments.

Our Difference


You have access to some of the region’s foremost zoonotic disease experts. Our specialists completed the highest level of infectious disease training (fellowships) and are advancing the field through research. Their depth of experience helps you receive the highest level of care.

Leadership in Pandemic Prevention Research

UC Davis Health is among a select few programs partnering with a National Institutes of Health (NIH) research center to study wildlife zoonoses. Infectious disease researchers are working to detect flu strains with pandemic potential and reduce the likelihood of a worldwide outbreak.


Primary care providers are often your first stop for signs of zoonotic infection, such as flu-like symptoms and severe diarrhea. Many UC Davis Health primary care providers offer same-day appointments. They coordinate additional services with infectious disease specialists if you have a rare or difficult-to-treat diagnosis.


What Are Zoonotic Diseases?

These are viruses, parasites, bacteria and fungi that spread from animals to humans. Even if you and the animal are both healthy, you can still get zoonotic infections.

Common Diseases Caused by Animals:

Bird Flu (Avian Influenza H5N1)

Avian influenza causes symptoms similar to seasonal flu, except it spreads through contact with an infected bird. The condition is treatable with antiviral medications.

Lyme Disease

This infection spreads through tick bites. It can cause rash, and less commonly joint inflammation, facial droop, meningitis, or heart problems. Early treatment can lower your risk of these issues.


Rabies is a rare, often fatal condition that spreads through animal bites. It can cause seizures, hallucinations, rapid breathing (hyperventilation) and paralysis. If you have possibly been exposed to the rabies virus (such as through an animal or bat bite), you may be able to prevent infection by immediately getting post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) with rabies vaccines and antibodies.


Causes of Zoonotic Infections

Zoonoses are spread from animal to humans through germs that may be in:

Contaminated Food and Water

Food or water with animal feces or urine can make you sick. The same is true of some animal-based food products such as undercooked meat and unpasteurized milk.

Direct Animal Contact

Coming into contact with an animal’s body fluids (saliva, urine, feces, birthing fluids, and mucus) can spread disease. You can also catch germs from bites and scratches.

Indirect Contact with Animals

Handling an animal’s living environment exposes you to its germs. This may involve changing a cat’s litter, cleaning a chicken coup, putting food or water in a dog bowl or giving a horse hay.


Preventing Zoonotic Infections

You can minimize the risk of diseases caused by animals. Wash your hands immediately after handling, cleaning or feeding a pet. You should also avoid contact with animals if you are sick or have a weakened immune system.

"Zoonotic Diseases," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), https://www.cdc.gov/onehealth/basics/zoonotic-diseases.html

"Rabies Postexposure Prophylaxis (PEP)," CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/medical_care/index.html

Why Zoonotic Diseases Matter

You are at risk for zoonoses if your family has pets or your job, hobbies or travel involve regular animal exposure. These conditions are typically treatable, but some can make you severely ill or have long-lasting complications.

Another concern is the potential for a pandemic, when a disease caused by animals spreads to many people (a recent example is the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic). Infectious disease experts at UC Davis Health are taking steps to reduce the likelihood of this happening.

We are one of California’s largest West Nile virus public testing centers. Our experts are also taking steps to control other zoonotic diseases.

Four researchers looking at a computer screen in a lab.

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