In a study led by Bruno Levecke, a parasitologist at Ghent University and collegues at the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp show that zoo’s are a hot bed for interspecies transmission of certain parasites including Blastocystis hominis.
A relatively mild disease, Blastocystis hominis was present in two-thirds of zookeepers and up to 82% of certain zoo animals.
The parasite was found not only in humans, but also monkeys, elephants, and kangaroos among others.
The study looked at zoos in Australia, Amsterdam and Antwerp. Fecal samples were collected and examined from zoo employees and animals.
Blastocystis hominis has been a confusing organism for many years, first considered yeast but now a multicellular protest.
Disease is transmitted through contaminated food and water. It is believed, according to the researchers that animals sharing an area probably transmit the parasite to one another.
They go on to say that the zookeepers are getting infected by cleaning these living areas in the zoo.
Symptoms in humans, if present include watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, anal itching, and excessive gas.
Knowing this information concerning the animal to human transmission is important because other bacterial and parasitic infections like giardiasis could also transmitted this way.
Zookeepers need to practice very good handwashing and the use of gloves when working in zoo enclosures will help prevent transmission.