Farm animals and pandemics: nine diseases that changed the world

“Pandemics almost always begin with the transmission of an animal microbe to a human,” writes biologist Nathan Wolfe in the introduction to The Viral Storm. This year has been, more than most, a manifestation of that fact.

This summer, several months after Covid-19 exploded into the world, the UN published a report looking more closely at our relation to zoonotic disease. Wildlife, and our increasing proximity to wildlife, is the most common source, but farmed animals are not only original sources, they can be transmission sources or bridging hosts, carrying the infection from the wild to humans. “Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of animals involved in historic zoonotic events or current zoonosis are domestic (livestock, domesticated wildlife and pets), which is logical as the contact rates are high.”

Here we look at the major outbreaks that have been linked to industrial farming over the last 170 years.

Contributors: Bibi van der Zee, Garry Blight, Eric Hilaire, Jessie McDonald

Additional image credits: EPA, Wellcome Collection, REX/Shutterstock, Reuters, Alamy, AFP/Getty Images

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