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Health Department

Animal-borne (Zoonotic) Diseases

Animal-borne (zoonotic) diseases are transmitted from animals or insects to humans. These diseases include rabies, hantavirus, plague, tularemia, and West Nile virus. They are caused by bacteria and viruses transmitted by mammals, mosquitos, ticks and fleas. The Douglas County Health Department, in partnership with local animal control agencies, prevents the spread of animal-borne diseases through education, monitoring, and testing.


Rabies is a fatal illness caused by a virus transmitted to humans and pets through bites and scratches of an infected animal. Wild animals including bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes are more likely to be infected with rabies than domestic pets in the US. In other countries, dogs and other domestic animals can transmit rabies.

Lean more about Rabies.


Hantavirus is also caused by a virus typically spread by rodents. In the US, the deer mouse causes human hantavirus infection after exposure to aerosolized virus shed in mouse urine, feces, and saliva. When the lungs of an exposed person become infected, serious illness and death can occur.

Learn more about Hantavirus.


Plague is a bacterial infection usually resulting from a bite by an infected rodent flea. Infection can also be caused by handling an infected animal. Plague is effectively treated with antibiotics. Without treatment, plague can be fatal.

Learn more about Plague.


Tularemia is also a bacterial infection that can infect humans and animals. The bacteria is often found in rabbits, hares, and rodents, resulting in die-offs during outbreaks. People can become infected from tick and deer fly bites, skin contact with an infected animal, drinking contaminated water, and inhaling contaminated particles. Tularemia infections can be treated with antibiotics but infections can be life-threatening.

Learn more about Tularemia.

West Nile virus

West Nile virus is a viral infection spread to humans through a mosquito bite. Infected people often have mild or no symptoms and the illness resolves without medical care. Less than 1 percent of infected people develop serious life-threatening inflammation of the spinal cord or brain.

Mosquitoes and West Nile Virus