Zoonotic Behaviors: Overview

A person transporting chicken carcasses on a motorcycleEach zoonotic disease is associated with a set of risk and prevention behaviors. Risk behaviors increase the risk of particular diseases jumping from animals to humans or spreading among humans. Prevention behaviors are actions that stop the disease from spreading, taking into account the specific mode of transmission as well as the availability of vaccines. Review the list of behaviors below to see a description and the priority zoonotic diseases with which each behavior intersects. Filter by disease to see relevant behaviors for a particular pathogen.

After reviewing the behaviors below, proceed to research questions (“Collecting Data”) that explore these behaviors in the context of zoonotic diseases.

How to Use this Table

Consider your goals for collecting behavioral data.

√ Do you want to look at behaviors that create risk, or behaviors that prevent disease? Filter using “type”.

√ Are you concerned about spillover from animals, or spreading between people? Filter using “transmission”.

√  Are you interested in any behaviors for specific diseases? Filter using “Disease”.

Download the filtered list of behaviors that you can use to design your data collection or risk communication strategy.

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Use the suggested dimensions to reflect on your list of behaviors and prioritize the ones that are most important.

Zoonotic Behaviors

CCHF=Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever

HPAI=highly pathogenic avian influenza

Zoonotic Behaviors French

FHCC=fièvre hémorragique de Crimée-Congo

GAHP=grippe aviaire hautement pathogène

How to prioritize behaviors for research

Zoonotic diseases may spread from animals to people or between people in a variety of ways, and sometimes one zoonotic disease may be linked to a lot of risk behaviors. However, when doing rapid behavioral research particularly in an emergency setting, research teams have to prioritize which behaviors are most critical to explore.

Here are five criteria that teams can use to triage which behaviors should be explored through a research assessment.



How commonly does a risk behavior transmit the disease? How effectively does a prevention behavior prevent the disease? What evidence exists to support this claim? Is it reasonable to believe that if you were to change the behavior, that it would have a demonstrable impact on the public health outcome of interest? Choose behaviors that are most important in preventing or stopping an outbreak.

For example, globally 95% of human anthrax cases are cutaneous and spread through skin contact with infected animals, whereas infection through contact with contaminated soil is more rare. So if you have limited space in a questionnaire, exploring behaviors that involve unprotected contact with animals should be a priority. However, a localized understanding of how transmission occurs in the specific setting is critical.

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Room to move

Are most people already performing the behavior we want? Choose behaviors where there is room to move or where most people are not already performing the recommended behavior.

For example, if data suggest that 98% of children in a certain setting are routinely vaccinated against yellow fever, then there is no reason to explore barriers to routine vaccination of children against yellow fever.

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Which behaviors intersect with multiple diseases of interest? Consider behaviors that cross-cut multiple diseases or health areas to maximize the benefit of your research.

For example, washing hands with soap after handling live or dead animals is a key prevention behavior for several diseases. This may be a higher priority behavior to investigate as opposed to something like cooking eggs thoroughly, which is linked to fewer diseases. However, keep in mind that you need focused and specific research to truly prevent and stop outbreaks.


Existing Literature

What is already known about drivers of this behavior? What can be inferred from research done in similar settings, and what is unique about this particular setting? Choose behaviors where there is less already known, and opt for a desk review or literature review when existing research covers the behaviors of interest.

For example, for Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa, there has been considerable behavioral research conducted on facilitators of safe burial practices (such as knowledge about the modes of transmission) due to several recent epidemics. New research could focus on topics where less is already known, such as perceptions of novel Ebola vaccines or other cultural factors that may drive an outbreak.

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Is the behavior malleable? What are the likely determinants of the behavior? Are the determinants ideational (knowledge, attitudes, social norms, self-efficacy, emotion)? Or are they environmental/structural? If ideational, is it reasonable to think they might be changed through a communications intervention? If environmental or structural, is it possible that small tweaks to the environment could make a big difference in the behavior? Or are the primary determinants unable to be addressed through the type of intervention that you have funding to implement?

For example, vaccinating dogs to prevent rabies is an important behavior but in some settings, cost and convenience may be important barriers to canine vaccination. People may already believe that rabies is a serious disease and that it is important to vaccinate dogs against rabies. In such a case, limited resources might be best spent on advocating to make canine vaccination free through mobile vaccination campaigns rather than exploring the cognitive barriers to canine vaccination against rabies.

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Epidemic Phase

Is the disease circulating in animals and you hope to prevent it spreading to more animals? Do you need to stop the disease spreading from animals to people? Has the jump from animals to people already occurred, and now you need to stop limited person-to-person spread from becoming an outbreak or epidemic? The stage of the outbreak and your goals (prevention, detection, response) will determine the types of behaviors that take priority.

For example, avian influenza does not typically spread easily between humans, so in years where there is a lot of avian influenza activity in wild and domestic animals, you may want to focus on protective behaviors for people interacting with animals. However, since the virus can change and begin spreading rapidly in humans, you may also want to prepare for an epidemic by investigating behaviors that limit person-to-person transmission.