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A review of captive exotic animal-linked zoonoses

Clifford Warwick1 DipMedSci CBiol EurProBiol FRSPH FSB, Phillip C Arena2 BSc(Hons) PhD, Catrina Steedman1 BSc(Hons) AMSB, Mike Jessop3 BVetMed MRCVS

1 Emergent Disease Foundation, Riverside House, River Lawn Road, Tonbridge, Kent TN9 1EP UK
2 Murdoch University, Peel Campus, Education Drive, Mandurah, Western Australia 6210
3 Ash Veterinary Surgery, Aberdare Road, Georgetown, Merthyr Tydfil CF481AT U

Correspondence:

Clifford Warwick
Emergent Disease Foundation
Riverside House
River Lawn Road
Tonbridge
Kent TN9 1EP UK

Telephone: 07757 267 369
Email: cliffordwarwick@yahoo.com 

Abstract

Captive exotic animal-linked zoonoses are part of a major global emerging disease problem. Exotic animals are notably represented in the pet trade, zoos, and to a far lesser extent in circuses, with exotic pets being the primary concern. Combined, in the UK there may be approximately 42 million exotic pets (including fishes) in private homes, an unknown number in zoos, and in circuses less than 40 individuals. A wide range of species is involved, and a large and expanding array of potentially pathogenic agents. Sixty-one percent of human diseases have a potentially zoonotic origin and 75% of global emerging human diseases have a wild animal link.

Exotic pets in particular may represent a source of largely unrecognised and unrecorded microbes and macroparasites in the domestic environment. Pet markets constitute an especially high risk of infection and these risks are fundamentally uncontrollable.
Future guidance may include advising against keeping exotic animals as pets unless excellent monitoring for diseases and essential husbandry practices are pursued. Zoos and circuses also involve zoonotic risks but may be relatively low because public visits and exposure are infrequent.

The prevalence of exotic animal-linked zoonoses in the UK is unknown. Many cases of zoonotic disease are probably misdiagnosed as other conditions and under-reporting in general is a likely major factor in under-ascertainment of cases. In addition, border and domestic biosecurity is lacking. New guidance on zoonoses monitoring, prevention and control is included as well as upgraded public health guidance that emphasises special caution against over-reliance on hand washing and other widely recommended measures.

Animal facilities should be required to provide independently sanctioned guidance on health risk and maintain strict record-keeping that includes detailed animal inventories, treatment data and post-mortem reports as well as pet purchaser details to assist in contact tracing in the event of outbreaks. Local authorities should also liaise with animal facilities to develop obligatory zoonotic disease response plans.

Key words: Exotic pets, zoos, circuses, zoonoses, disease, prevention, control

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