Animals get STI as well as humans (2023)

Posted: by Mia Rozenbaum on 13/01/15

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Animals get STI as well as humans (1)

Wednesday the 14th of January 2015 is National STI day

Ladies and gentlemen, two weeks after the intense partying over New Year, it might be time to think about your sexual health. Some of the most common types of STIs take about two weeks before they can be detected with a simple STI test kit. Chlamydia for example, is testing positive in around one in twelve under 25s and is on the rise. The appearance of dating applications, such as Tinder, have made finding a sexual partner faster and easier and those who use them seem to be more likely to test positive for STIs, so beware! (1)

Fortunately, quite a lot is now known about various types of STIs and treatments are available for most of them.

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STIs or Sexually Transmitted Infections are diseases that are passed from one person to another through unprotected sex or in some cases through genital contact. Many STIs such as Chlamydia often don’t show obvious signs of infections at all, which makes the spread of the diseases hard to stop. The most common human STIs are Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Syphilis caused by bacteria; Genital Herpes, Human papilloma virus and AIDS caused by viruses; and Trichomoniasis caused by a parasite.(2)

But humans are not the only animals suffering from STIs, all other animals can be infected by diseases transmitted during sex.

STIs in animals

“Wild Animals don’t practice safe sex, of course they have STIs!” explains Dr Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, a modern day Dr Dolittle and UCLA cardiologist consulting for the Los Angeles zoo.

Animals get STI as well as humans (2)Atlantic bottlenose dolphins can get genital warts, baboons suffer from herpes and syphilis is common in rabbits. (3)And not only do animals and humans have STIs, but some of these diseases might share a common history explains Alonso Aguire, a vet and president for conservation medicine at the US Wildlife Trust.

“Two or three of the major STIs [in humans] have come from animals. We know, for example, that gonorrhoea came from cattle to humans. Syphilis also came to humans from cattle or sheep many centuries ago, possibly sexually”. (4)

The most recent and deadliest STI to have crossed the barrier separating humans and animals has been HIV, which humans got from the simian version of the virus in chimpanzees.

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Overall, Humans STIs have enough in common with animal STIs that much can be learnt about human STIs by studying them in animal models.

What animals tell us about STIs

The study of STIs in animals can tell us a lot about their pathogenicity. Lockhart and Thrall (5) studied 200 diseases with evidence of sexual transmission in mammals, reptiles, arachnids, insects, molluscs and even nematodes. They found that the dynamic of STIs differ from other infectious diseases in that disease spread depends on the proportion of infected host in the population rather than on host density, which correlates with other studies pursued on the ladybug and theoretical models of host-STI systems. (6)

Studying an STI in an animal can also help us predict its behaviour in humans. For example, animal studies have suggested that the ‘viral reservoir’ in which HIV lies dormant is established much earlier than previously thought. Studies of the Rhesus monkey showed that the earlier the antiretroviral treatment started, the longer the virus took to rebound or become detectable in the blood, but was still present. This would explain the recurring symptoms of the baby ‘cured’ from HIV last year. (7)

Animal research leading to vaccines and therapeutic drugs

Animal models are also really important in finding a cure or even better, a vaccine against STIs. Research on HIV today is actively looking for a vaccine.

“There is no protective vaccine against HIV today and it is a priority to find one.” states Dr Monsef Benkirane, director of the human genetic CNRS institute in Montpellier and specialist in HIV persistence. “If one day we find a vaccine, it won’t be a classic vaccine like we know them today. It will be profoundly new.”

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“However, the discovery of broadly neutralising antibodies brings a hope for HIV cure. Indeed, proof of concept of their efficacy using animal models has been recently reported. Based on results obtained using animal models, clinical trials using this antibody are ongoing.” explains Benkirane.(8)

Animals get STI as well as humans (3)In Australia a group of researcher is working on a Chlamydia vaccine for Koalas as a step towards a human vaccine. With only 43,000 koalas left in the wild, Chlamydia has greatly contributed to a decrease exceeding 80% of the koala population in the last 10 years in some places. With still three more trials needed to get the vaccine completed, the team is envisioning the potentials for humans. However, the homology and transferability of the vaccine to humans is difficult to predict, as there is only 10% similarity between the koala and the human Chlamydia. But the goal is to find antigens that are conserved across all Chlamydia species. (4)

But for now, thankfully , some STIs can be cured using antibiotics. But like all drugs, antibiotics are tested on animals before they can be given to humans. These tests help understand the efficacy of the drug, but also the side effects and the dosage. Doxycycline is one of the main antibiotics given to cure Gonorrhoea, syphilis and Chlamydia. Animal studies have shown that the drug can be dangerous for pregnant women and their foetus, as it can cross the placenta.

In conclusion

Overall, animal testing remains crucial for ensuring new drugs and vaccines against STIs are safe for humans. But the importance of animal research isn’t limited to that, research on animals has increased our understanding of STIs and even led to treatments for animals as well as humans.

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Last edited: 8 April 2022 10:50

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(Video) How do viruses jump from animals to humans? - Ben Longdon


What animals carry human STDs? ›

The most recent and deadliest STI to have crossed the barrier separating humans and animals has been HIV, which humans got from the simian version of the virus in chimpanzees. The most common STI among animals today is Brucellosis or undulant fever present in domestic livestock, dogs, cats, deer and rats.

Can dogs get STDs like humans? ›

YES! Multiple types of sexually transmitted infections such as herpes can easily be spread through breeding populations if precautions are not taken.

What animal gave humans chlamydia? ›

He said Chlamydia pneumoniae was originally an animal pathogen that crossed the species barrier to humans and had adapted to the point where it could now be transmitted between humans. "What we think now is that Chlamydia pneumoniae originated from amphibians such as frogs," he said.

Can I get chlamydia from a cat? ›

Humans can be infected with chlamydia but Chlamydophila felis is very highly adapted to cats and human infection following contact with an infected cat has been reported on extremely rare occasions. The Chlamydophila bacterium is readily transmitted from cat to cat.

Can you get STDs from kissing a dog? ›

Most cases of people getting sick from kissing or licking with pets come from oral contact with fecal residue which can be transmitted after pets lick their anus. Facial and lip licking between humans and pets can carry this fecal matter easily. In some cases, a pet can transmit a parasite to a human.

Can my dog gave me chlamydia? ›

He stressed that the chances of a person catching the disease from their dog are “extremely rare”. “This is a different strain of chlamydia than the STD, and you cannot catch an STD from your dog,” he said. “The chances of catching chlamydia psittaci from your dog would be extremely slim too.

Do animals get chlamydia? ›

Chlamydia is a genus comprising important zoonotic obligate intracellular pathogens that affect humans and a wide range of animals, including birds [1,2].

Where do STDs come from in the first place? ›

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) — or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) — are generally acquired by sexual contact. The bacteria, viruses or parasites that cause sexually transmitted diseases may pass from person to person in blood, semen, or vaginal and other bodily fluids.

How did chlamydia begin? ›

The origins of both sexually transmitted and ocular C. trachomatis are unclear, but it seems likely that they evolved with humans and shared a common ancestor with environmental chlamydiae some 700 million years ago. Subsequently, evolution within mammalian cells has been accompanied by radical reduction in the C.

Can my bird give me chlamydia? ›

Chlamydia psittaci is a type of bacteria that often infects birds. Less commonly, these bacteria can infect people and cause a disease called psittacosis.

What STD can cats get? ›

Chlamydia is spread by close or direct contact with an infected cat, so all cats in the home can become infected. For this reason, if one cat in the home is diagnosed, all cats in the household should be treated. "...if one cat in the home is diagnosed, all cats in the household should be treated."

Can you get gonorrhea from dog? ›

“I don't think it's cause for concern. Neisseria grows in lots of different places including human mouths, and although both meningitis and gonorrhea are part of the Neisseria family, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get gonorrhea from your dog,” says Dr. Amesh Adalja.

Do cat STDs exist? ›

And among STDs, feline herpes is one of the more aggressive viruses, estimated to infect more than 90 percent of cats. Symptoms can include sneezing attacks, eye ulcers, loss of appetite and depression.

Can animals give people STDs? ›

Generally speaking, the STIs (sexually transmitted infections) we associate with person-to-person sexual contact, including HIV, cannot be transmitted through sexual contact between humans and animals because these infections are species-specific.

Can animals pass chlamydia to humans? ›

It is found worldwide. Many animals that have this bacteria do not show any signs of illness. Humans are rarely infected from animal exposure.

How did humans get chlamydia from animals? ›

Professor Timms said the research revealed evidence that humans were originally infected zoonotically by animal isolates of Chlamydia pneumoniae which have adapted to humans primarily through the processes of gene decay.

Can a dog get chlamydia from a human? ›

YES! Some people might think because Chlamydia is commonly known as a sexually transmitted disease amongst humans, that dogs would never come into the physical contact required to catch it. However, dogs absolutely can contract Chlamydia, it just isn't sexually transmitted.

Can you get chlamydia from eating salmon? ›

Like other infectious organisms of fish such as salmon, it cannot infect humans. So to reassure concerned readers of a certain tabloid newspaper (which has since amended its grossly misleading headline), no matter what their interaction with Scottish salmon, they will not catch chlamydia.


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