Epidemiology, Infectious Diseases

Large Animal Disease Outbreaks Around the World

Author Chandana Balasubramanian , 22-May-2024

Understanding animal disease outbreaks is essential for everyone, not just farmers and veterinarians.


These outbreaks can greatly affect our economy, health, and daily lives. Animal diseases can wipe out entire herds, causing financial problems for farmers and higher food prices for everyone. Even more worrying, some diseases can spread to humans, creating serious health risks.


Knowing about these outbreaks helps us be prepared. It means recognizing the signs early, using effective controls, and having the knowledge and tools to protect animals and humans.


Let’s look at some large animal disease outbreaks that had a huge impact on the world.


Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow Disease

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as mad cow disease, has left a lasting mark on the agricultural world.

This insidious disease-causing agent, which leads to the gradual breakdown of the central nervous system (CNS) in cattle, is named for the sponge-like appearance of BSE-infected brain tissue under a microscope [1,2].

Disease overview

BSE is a progressive neurodegenerative disease caused by a prion [2].

A prion is a type of abnormal, misfolded protein that can cause disease by inducing other normal proteins to misfold in a similar way. This leads to brain damage and neurodegenerative disorders. The BSE prion wreaks havoc on the CNS of affected cattle [1, 3].

Major outbreaks

The late 1980s in the UK marked the beginning of a devastating disease outbreak of BSE. Infected cows displayed alarming symptoms such as nervousness, hypersensitivity, and unsteadiness.

By the early 1990s, the disease had spread significantly, peaking in 1992 with 37,280 confirmed cases.

Contaminated feed, particularly meat and bone meal (MBM), was identified as the primary source for the spread of the disease [2].


Between 1986 and 2001, over 4.5 million cattle were culled in the UK alone, resulting in enormous economic losses. The human toll included over 178 deaths from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) between 1995 and 2016 [2,3].

The crisis also led to a significant loss of consumer confidence in British beef, prompting international bans on imports [2].

Challenges and future strategies for prevention

The absence of a vaccine for BSE underscores the need for preventive measures, such as destroying infected animals and rigorous feed controls. The unique nature of prions continues to challenge disease control efforts [4].


H1N1 Influenza Pandemic (2009-2010)

The H1N1 influenza pandemic, commonly known as swine flu, emerged in Mexico in 2009 and quickly spread worldwide, becoming a significant public health crisis [5].

In the context of zoonotic diseases, it is important also to consider avian influenza, which has had notable impacts on public health, particularly with the spread of H5N1 avian influenza in Asia.

Disease overview

H1N1 is caused by the Influenza A (H1N1) virus, a respiratory illness transmitted through droplets from coughs and sneezes, which is a type of communicable disease. Unlike common misconceptions, the virus cannot be spread by eating pork products [6].

Major outbreaks

Declared a pandemic on June 11, 2009, the H1N1 virus had reached 74 countries by then. Notably, younger individuals exhibited a poorer antibody response than those over 60 [5,6].


From April 12, 2009, to April 10, 2010, the US CDC estimated that there were roughly 60.8 million cases, around 274,304 hospitalizations, and about 12,469 deaths in the United States [5, 6].

Misunderstandings about the disease led to unnecessary actions, such as Egypt’s culling of 400,000 pigs.

Challenges and future strategies for prevention

Although antiviral treatments were effective and a vaccine was swiftly developed, the pandemic highlighted the need for enhanced preparedness and public education to combat misinformation.


Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)

Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is a highly contagious viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed farm animals, including cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs [7].

Disease overview

FMD is caused by an Aphthovirus from the Picornaviridae family. It spreads quickly through direct contact with infected animals and contaminated materials, creating multiple opportunities for disease transmission [7].

Major outbreaks

  • 2001: United Kingdom, Ireland, France, and the Netherlands
  • 2001-2003: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
  • 2009: Pakistan
  • 2010: Bulgaria
  • 2011-2013: South Africa
  • 2019-2022: India, Indonesia.



FMD can cause severe production losses and significant economic and social disruptions, especially in regions heavily reliant on agriculture. The psychosocial impact is also profound, with distress and diminished trust in authorities persisting long after outbreaks [8-10].

Challenges and future strategies for prevention

Effective control of FMD requires constant vigilance and robust biosecurity measures. Continuous monitoring and adaptable vaccination strategies are crucial to combat the evolving virus [9].


Nipah Virus

Nipah virus, an RNA virus known for its high mutation rates, is a significant concern in the realm of infectious diseases and has caused numerous outbreaks since its discovery in 1999 [11].

Disease overview

Nipah virus is a zoonotic virus from the Paramyxoviridae family, genus Henipavirus.

Fruit bats and other wild animals are the natural reservoirs, and the virus can spread to humans and other animals through close contact with infected fluids [12].

It can cause infections in pigs, dogs, cats, and humans [12].

Major outbreaks

First identified in Malaysia in 1998, Nipah virus outbreaks have since become an annual occurrence in Bangladesh and have also been reported periodically in India, leading to significant human infections.

Outbreaks include:

  • 1998-1999: Malaysia: 265 cases with 111 deaths.
  • 2001: India: 66 cases with 45 deaths.
  • 2007: India: 50 cases with 5 deaths [12].



The 1999 outbreak in Malaysia and Singapore resulted in 300 human cases and over 100 deaths, with more than 1 million pigs culled to contain the spread. The economic impact on the swine industry was significant due to increased costs for prevention and health expenses [13, 14].

Challenges and future strategies for prevention

The lack of specific drugs or vaccines for the Nipah virus highlights the critical need for continued research and development for prevention. Early detection and isolation are essential to prevent the rapid spread of this deadly virus [14].



In conclusion, these major animal disease outbreaks underscore the importance of vigilance, research, and international cooperation.

Collaboration among health professionals, environmental agencies, and intergovernmental organizations is crucial in addressing these challenges. Each outbreak presents unique challenges and valuable lessons that can inform future disease control and prevention strategies.


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[8]T. J. D. Knight-Jones and J. Rushton, “The economic impacts of foot and mouth disease – What are they, how big are they and where do they occur?,” Prev. Vet. Med., vol. 112, no. 3–4, pp. 161–173, 2013.
[9]F. Diaz-San Segundo, G. N. Medina, C. Stenfeldt, J. Arzt, and T. de los Santos, “Foot-and-mouth disease vaccines,” Vet. Microbiol., vol. 206, pp. 102–112, 2017.
[10]M. Mort, I. Convery, J. Baxter, and C. Bailey, “Psychosocial effects of the 2001 UK foot and mouth disease epidemic in a rural population: qualitative diary based study,” BMJ, vol. 331, no. 7527, p. 1234, 2005.
[11]P. Devnath and H. M. A. A. Masud, “Nipah virus: a potential pandemic agent in the context of the current severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 pandemic,” New Microbes New Infect., vol. 41, no. 100873, p. 100873, 2021.
[12]“Nipah virus,” Who.int. [Online]. Available: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/nipah-virus. [Accessed: 22-May-2024].
[13]CDC, “About,” Nipah Virus, 18-Apr-2024. [Online]. Available: https://www.cdc.gov/nipah-virus/about/index.html. [Accessed: 22-May-2024].
[14]FINAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPAC T STATEMENT, “National bio and Agro-defense facility,” Dhs.gov. [Online]. Available: https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/nbaf_feis_appendix_d_0.pdf. [Accessed: 22-May-2024].
Chandana Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network, and has a Masters degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

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