Animals, disease, and man: making connections

Perspect Biol Med. Spring 2003;46(2):200-15. doi: 10.1353/pbm.2003.0021.


The intricate causal relationships between disease in man and disease in animals first began to be elucidated in the mid-19th century. Although the connections between animal and human disease are now generally understood, individuals as well as societies remain slow to act on this knowledge. This paper examines the gradual recognition of these disease connections and explores the parallel theme of man's reluctance to appreciate the implications of these connections. It identifies factors that have inhibited the realization of the links between disease in man and animals, and discusses several milestones in the scientific elucidation of these links. Beginning with emerging concerns over the relationship between bovine and human tuberculosis in the 1860s, it follows the discovery of insect vectors, animal reservoirs, and the links between animals, influenza, and man. Despite warnings of the potential significance for human disease of patterns of changes in the relationship with animals and the natural world, scientists have continued to treat human and animal health as largely independent disciplines, while historians too have neglected this important aspect of human disease.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asia
  • Cattle
  • Disease Outbreaks / history*
  • Disease Reservoirs
  • Ecosystem*
  • Europe
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Insect Vectors
  • North America
  • Plague / history
  • Plague / transmission
  • Tuberculosis / history
  • Tuberculosis / transmission
  • Tuberculosis, Bovine / history
  • Tuberculosis, Bovine / transmission
  • Typhoid Fever / history
  • Typhoid Fever / transmission
  • Zoonoses / history*