Diseases that wildlife can spread to people, either directly with an animal bite or indirectly through a vector such as a tick or flea, pose management challenges for wildlife staff. They always use personal protective equipment—gloves, goggles, and masks, if necessary—to prevent transmission of these diseases, which can include:
- Anthrax – is more common in grazing animals than humans. Scientists think animals inhale or injest the spores.
- Hantavirus – spreads from dried, infected mouse urine, usually in buildings.
- Rabies – spreads from an infected animal to a human when it bites a person. This is rare in the Smokies.
- Tick-borne diseases can spread from animals to people, and include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (the most common tick-borne illness in the southeast U.S., from Arkansas to the Atlantic coast), Lyme Disease (rarely), and other sicknesses.
- Toxoplasmosis – also called Cat Scratch Disease, this spreads from infected meat or feces of cats (and some other mammals) to other animals or people. This is primarily a concern with pet cats.
- West Nile virus – is spread through a mosquito from infected birds, squirrels, or other small animals.
Keep in mind that most of these diseases are not common in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it is still wise to check yourself for ticks after visiting (or visiting any forested or grassy area). It is also unwise—and illegal—to willfully approach wildlife, because you put the animals and yourself at risk.
Read about current research on zoonotic diseases in the Park.
Return to Meet the Managers: Wildlife.