Wild animals and zoonotic pathogens

Animals may carry microbes that can cause disease in humans.

13 April 2022

University of Alberta researchers who will be handling wild animals, or materials derived from the animals, must complete a hazard assessment to identify, assess, and control zoonotic pathogens (disease-causing microbes that can pass from animal to human) that may be associated with the population they are studying. 

Groups should understand the risks associated with zoonotic pathogens and implement control measures regardless of whether or not there is an active outbreak of the disease in the population. 

What are some examples of animals associated with zoonotic pathogens?

Many University of Alberta researchers conduct work with wild animals that have the potential to transmit disease to humans. For example:

  • Deer mice may carry hantavirus; research groups working with deer mice should include hantavirus in their hazard assessment.
  • Migratory waterfowl may carry avian influenza. Groups working with migratory waterfowl should include avian influenza in their hazard assessment.

To learn more about zoonotic pathogens associated with specific animal populations, refer to the following resources:

What control measures are required for U of A researchers who work with wild animals?

  1. To determine appropriate control measures for the work you will be doing, review the Safe Work Practice: handling animals infected with a zoonotic pathogen (suspected or confirmed) in the field
  2. Ensure that you are storing and working with animal specimens brought back from the field in Containment Level 2 spaces. 
  3. Ensure that you have registered your research space (and the specimens you will be handling) in ARISE, the U of A’s institutional research database. 
    • In your ARISE record, list any samples that you will store or use. Select from the Biological Specimens & Preparations pulldown:
      • Wild animal blood, body fluids, feces or tissues [= any free-roaming feral vertebrate species]
      • Commercial livestock blood, body fluids, feces or tissues [= cattle, swine, chickens, alpaca, etc. held in an enclosed space, feedlot or pasture]
      • Companion animal blood, body fluids, feces or tissues [= dogs, cats and other pets, includes service animals]

Groups should understand the risks associated with zoonotic pathogens and implement control measures regardless of whether or not there is an active outbreak of the disease in the population

For more information about working safely with biological materials at the University of Alberta, visit the HSE biosafety webpage or contact hse.info@ualberta.ca