skip to main content

Title: Zootherapy as a potential pathway for zoonotic spillover: a mixed-methods study of the use of animal products in medicinal and cultural practices in Nigeria
Abstract Background

Understanding how and why people interact with animals is important for the prevention and control of zoonoses. To date, studies have primarily focused on the most visible forms of human-animal contact (e.g., hunting and consumption), thereby blinding One Health researchers and practitioners to the broader range of human-animal interactions that can serve as cryptic sources of zoonotic diseases. Zootherapy, the use of animal products for traditional medicine and cultural practices, is widespread and can generate opportunities for human exposure to zoonoses. Existing research examining zootherapies omits details necessary to adequately assess potential zoonotic risks.


We used a mixed-methods approach, combining quantitative and qualitative data from questionnaires, key informant interviews, and field notes to examine the use of zootherapy in nine villages engaged in wildlife hunting, consumption, and trade in Cross River State, Nigeria. We analyzed medicinal and cultural practices involving animals from a zoonotic disease perspective, by including details of animal use that may generate pathways for zoonotic transmission. We also examined the sociodemographic, cultural, and environmental contexts of zootherapeutic practices that can further shape the nature and frequency of human-animal interactions.


Within our study population, people reported using 44 different animal species for zootherapeutic practices, including taxonomic groups considered to be “high risk” for zoonoses and threatened with extinction. Variation in use of animal parts, preparation norms, and administration practices generated a highly diverse set of zootherapeutic practices (n = 292) and potential zoonotic exposure risks. Use of zootherapy was patterned by demographic and environmental contexts, with zootherapy more commonly practiced by hunting households (OR = 2.47,p < 0.01), and prescriptions that were gender and age specific (e.g., maternal and pediatric care) or highly seasonal (e.g., associated with annual festivals and seasonal illnesses). Specific practices were informed by species availability and theories of healing (i.e., “like cures like” and sympathetic healing and magic) that further shaped the nature of human-animal interactions via zootherapy.


Epidemiological investigations of zoonoses and public health interventions that aim to reduce zoonotic exposures should explicitly consider zootherapy as a potential pathway for disease transmission and consider the sociocultural and environmental contexts of their use in health messaging and interventions.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Springer Science + Business Media
Date Published:
Journal Name:
One Health Outlook
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract Objectives

    The impact of anthropogenic environmental changes may impose strong pressures on the behavioral flexibility of free‐ranging animals. Here, we examine whether rates of interactions with humans had both adirectandindirectinfluence on the duration and distribution of social grooming in commensal rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta).

    Materials and Methods

    Data were collected in two locations in the city of Shimla in northern India: an urban setting and a temple area. We divided these two locations in a series of similar‐sized physical blocks (N = 48) with varying rates of human–macaque interactions. We conducted focal observations on three free‐ranging rhesus macaque groups, one in the urban area and two in the temple area.


    Our analysis shows that macaques engaged in shorter grooming bouts and were more vigilant while grooming in focal sessions during which they interacted with people more frequently, suggesting that humans directly affected grooming effort and vigilance behavior. Furthermore, we found that in blocks characterized by higher rates of human–macaque interactions grooming bouts were shorter, more frequently interrupted by vigilance behavior, and were less frequently reciprocated.


    Our work shows that the rates of human–macaque interaction had both a direct and indirect impact on grooming behavior and that macaques flexibly modified their grooming interactions in relation to the rates of human–macaque interaction to which they were exposed. Because grooming has important social and hygienic functions in nonhuman primates, our work suggests that human presence can have important implications for animal health, social relationships and, ultimately, fitness. Our results point to the need of areas away from people even for highly adaptable species where they can engage in social interactions without human disruption.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract Background

    Neglected tropical diseases affect the most vulnerable populations and cause chronic and debilitating disorders. Socioeconomic vulnerability is a well-known and important determinant of neglected tropical diseases. For example, poverty and sanitation could influence parasite transmission. Nevertheless, the quantitative impact of socioeconomic conditions on disease transmission risk remains poorly explored.


    This study investigated the role of socioeconomic variables in the predictive capacity of risk models of neglected tropical zoonoses using a decade of epidemiological data (2007–2018) from Brazil. Vector-borne diseases investigated in this study included dengue, malaria, Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, and Brazilian spotted fever, while directly-transmitted zoonotic diseases included schistosomiasis, leptospirosis, and hantaviruses. Environmental and socioeconomic predictors were combined with infectious disease data to build environmental and socioenvironmental sets of ecological niche models and their performances were compared.


    Socioeconomic variables were found to be as important as environmental variables in influencing the estimated likelihood of disease transmission across large spatial scales. The combination of socioeconomic and environmental variables improved overall model accuracy (or predictive power) by 10% on average (P < 0.01), reaching a maximum of 18% in the case of dengue fever. Gross domestic product was the most important socioeconomic variable (37% relative variable importance, all individual models exhibitedP < 0.00), showing a decreasing relationship with disease indicating poverty as a major factor for disease transmission. Loss of natural vegetation cover between 2008 and 2018 was the most important environmental variable (42% relative variable importance,P < 0.05) among environmental models, exhibiting a decreasing relationship with disease probability, showing that these diseases are especially prevalent in areas where natural ecosystem destruction is on its initial stages and lower when ecosystem destruction is on more advanced stages.


    Destruction of natural ecosystems coupled with low income explain macro-scale neglected tropical and zoonotic disease probability in Brazil. Addition of socioeconomic variables improves transmission risk forecasts on tandem with environmental variables. Our results highlight that to efficiently address neglected tropical diseases, public health strategies must target both reduction of poverty and cessation of destruction of natural forests and savannas.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Habitat conversion to farmland has increased human‐wildlife interactions, which often lead to conflict, injury or death for people and animals. Understanding the behavioural and landscape drivers of human‐wildlife conflict is critical for managing wildlife populations. Staging behaviour prior to crop incursions has been described across multiple taxa and offers potential utility in managing conflict, but few quantitative assessments of staging have been undertaken. Animal movement data can provide valuable, fine‐scale information on such behaviour with opportunities for application to real‐time management for conflict prediction.

    We developed an approach to assess the efficacy of six widely used metrics of animal movement to identify staging behaviour prior to agricultural incursions. We applied this approach to GPS data from 55 African elephants in the Serengeti‐Mara ecosystem and found tortuosity and HMM‐derived behavioural states to be the most effective for identifying staging events. We then assessed temporal patterns of defined staging at daily and seasonal scales and explored environmental and anthropogenic drivers of staging from spatial generalized logistic mixed models. Finally, we tested the viability of combining movement and simple spatial metrics to predict crop incursions based on GPS data.

    Our approach identified staging behaviour that appeared to be driven largely by human activity and diurnal availability of protective cover from forest, riverine vegetation, and topography. Staging also varied substantially by season. Tortuosity and behavioural state metrics identified different staging strategies with distinct spatial distributions and anthropogenic drivers, and appeared to be linked to the juxtaposition between protected and cultivated lands. Tortuosity‐based staging combined with distance‐to‐agriculture produced promising results for pre‐event prediction of crop incursion.

    Synthesis and applications. Our study found staging by elephants prior to crop use could be identified from GPS tracking data, indicating that a better understanding of movement behaviour can inform targeted and proactive human‐wildlife conflict management and inform spatial planning efforts. Our approach is extendable to other conflict‐prone species to assess pre‐conflict behaviours and space use and demonstrates some of the challenges and advantages of using animal behaviour to assess temporal and spatial heterogeneity in human‐wildlife conflict.

    more » « less
  4. Helminths are parasites that cause disease at considerable cost to public health and present a risk for emergence as novel human infections. Although recent research has elucidated characteristics conferring a propensity to emergence in other parasite groups (e.g. viruses), the understanding of factors associated with zoonotic potential in helminths remains poor. We applied an investigator-directed learning algorithm to a global dataset of mammal helminth traits to identify factors contributing to spillover of helminths from wild animal hosts into humans. We characterized parasite traits that distinguish between zoonotic and non-zoonotic species with 91% accuracy. Results suggest that helminth traits relating to transmission (e.g. definitive and intermediate hosts) and geography (e.g. distribution) are more important to discriminating zoonotic from non-zoonotic species than morphological or epidemiological traits. Whether or not a helminth causes infection in companion animals (cats and dogs) is the most important predictor of propensity to cause human infection. Finally, we identified helminth species with high modelled propensity to cause zoonosis (over 70%) that have not previously been considered to be of risk. This work highlights the importance of prioritizing studies on the transmission of helminths that infect pets and points to the risks incurred by close associations with these animals. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Infectious disease macroecology: parasite diversity and dynamics across the globe’. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Household water insecurity is a complex socioecological challenge with a range of consequences for health and wellbeing. Understanding individual and household‐level coping strategies, i.e., responses or adaptations to manage water insecurity, can shape future research and development practice. We therefore (a) systematically describe the characteristics and contexts of 173 studies documenting coping strategies and (b) classify the types of strategies within four domains of water insecurity: access, use, quality, and reliability. Most studies were from Sub‐Saharan Africa or South Asia. In the domain of access, the most common coping strategies were building infrastructure, and storing, purchasing, and sharing water. For use, changing food consumption, agricultural practices, and hygiene were most frequently mentioned. For quality, water treatment was the most common strategy. To ensure water reliability, people most frequently reported changing routines or relocating their homes altogether. Our review provides a useful framework to understand coping strategies, but more research is needed to address three gaps in particular. First, we recommend more representative exploration of the range of coping strategies, particularly in middle‐ and high‐income countries. Second, the links between coping with water insecurity and a range of other nutritional, social, financial, and health outcomes need to be better understood to address overall household wellbeing. Third, we recommend the development of a metric to quantify individual and household‐level water insecurity‐related coping strategies. This line of inquiry can enable practitioners to design and implement context‐specific interventions that leverage preexisting strategies to improve experiences of water insecurity.

    This article is categorized under:

    Human Water > Water Governance

    Engineering Water > Planning Water

    more » « less