Food Hygiene

Human behaviour and the epidemiology of parasitic zoonoses

Int J Parasitol. 2005 Oct;35(11-12):1319-31. Epub 2005 Jul 20.

Human behaviour and the epidemiology of parasitic zoonoses.

Macpherson CN.

St George’s University, P.O. Box 7, Grenada, West Indies.


The behaviour of Homo sapiens has a pivotal role to play in the macro and microepidemiology of emerging or re-emerging parasitic zoonoses. Changing demographics and the concomitant alterations to the environment, climate, technology, land use and changes in human behavior, converge to favour the emergence and spread of parasitic zoonoses. The recent unprecedented movements of people, their animals and their parasites around the world, introduce and mix genes, cultural preferences, customs, and behavioral patterns. The increasing proclivity for eating meat, fish, crabs, shrimp, molluscs raw, undercooked, smoked, pickled or dried facilitates a number of protozoan (Toxoplasma), trematode (Fasciola sp., Paragonimus spp., Clonorchis sp., Opisthorchis spp., Heterophyes sp., Metagonimus sp., Echinostoma spp., Nanophyetus sp.) cestode (Taenia spp, Diphyllobothrum sp.) and nematode (Trichinella spp., Capillaria spp., Gnathostoma spp., Anisakis sp., Parastrongylus spp.) caused zoonoses. The increasing world population and the inability to keep pace with the provision of adequate sanitation and clean, safe drinking water, has led to an increased importance of waterborne zoonoses, such as those caused by Giardia, Cryptosporidium and Toxoplasma. Our close relationship with and the numerous uses to which we put companion animals and their ubiquitous distribution has resulted in dogs and cats unwitting participation in sharing over 60 parasite species including: Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Toxoplasma, most foodborne trematode species, Diphyllobothrum, Echinococcus spp., Ancylostoma and Toxocara. Changing human behaviour through education, to encourage the proper cooking of food, which may have cultural and social significance, will remain as challenging as controlling stray and feral pet populations, improving hygiene levels and the provision of safe drinking water and the proper use of sanctuary facilities. Long pre-patent periods and the normally insidious sub-clinical nature of most zoonoses makes advice requiring behavioural change for their control a difficult task. Our clearer understanding of the heterogeneity of susceptibility to infection, the complex genetic variations of people and parasite species and the development of molecular epidemiological tools is shedding more light on transmission routes and the spectrum of disease that is observed. Improved and new serological, molecular and imaging diagnostic tests and the development of broad spectrum chemotherapeutic agents has led to the attenuation of morbidity and mortality due to parasitic zoonoses in economically advantaged regions. Such advancements, in partnership with supportive behavioural change, has the potential for a sustainable global reduction in the burden of ill health due to parasitic zoonoses. Whether this will materialise is a challenge for us all.