An updated literature survey identified 1,407 recog-
nized species of human pathogen, 58% of which are
zoonotic. Of the total, 177 are regarded as emerging or
reemerging. Zoonotic pathogens are twice as likely to be in
this category as are nonzoonotic pathogens. Emerging and
reemerging pathogens are not strongly associated with
particular types of nonhuman hosts, but they are most like-
ly to have the broadest host ranges. Emerging and
reemerging zoonoses are associated with a wide range
of drivers, but changes in land use and agriculture and
demographic and societal changes are most commonly
cited. However, although zoonotic pathogens do represent
the most likely source of emerging and reemerging infec-
tious disease, only a small minority have proved capable of
causing major epidemics in the human population.
than half known to be zoonotic, i.e., able to infect other
host species (1,2). The survey data showed that those
pathogens regarded as emerging and reemerging were
more likely to be zoonotic than those that are not (1,3),
confirming an association between these characteristics
which had long been suspected (4,5), but which could not
be formally demonstrated without denominator data as
well as numerator data.
Here, we revisit these calculations, using updated infor-
mation on the biology and epidemiology of recognized
human pathogens. We pay close attention to possible dif-
ferences between the major pathogen groups—viruses,
bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and helminths. We also examine
in detail the relationship between host range and pathogen
emergence or reemergence, considering both the type and
diversity of nonhuman hosts. We catalog the kinds of prox-
imate factors or drivers that have been linked with
pathogen emergence and reemergence and ask whether
recent, comprehensive literature survey of human
pathogens listed >1,400 different species (1), more
these differ between the major pathogen groups or between
zoonotic and nonzoonotic pathogens.
We focus mainly on pathogen diversity (as numbers of
species) rather than on the effects of disease that they
impose, noting that many diseases, e.g., infant diarrhea,
can be caused by more than one species of pathogen.
However, we comment on the transmissibility of
pathogens once they have been introduced into the human
population because transmissibility is an important deter-
minant of the potential public health problem.
We obtained counts of pathogen species from an updat-
ed version of the previously published database (1). As
before, we defined a human pathogen as “a species infec-
tious to and capable of causing disease in humans under
natural transmission conditions.” We included pathogens
that have only been reported as causing a single case of
human disease and those that only cause disease in
immunocompromised persons. We also included instances
of accidental laboratory infection but excluded infections
resulting from deliberate exposure in the laboratory. We
added recently recognized pathogens listed online by the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World
Health Organization (WHO), ProMED, and elsewhere
(6–9). We obtained taxonomic classifications online from
the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, the
National Centre for Biotechnology Information, the CAB
International Bioscience database of fungal names, and
from standard texts (10–15).
Pathogen species were categorized as emerging or
reemerging based on previously published reviews of the
literature (1,3), again updated from online sources (6–8). A
species was regarded as emerging or reemerging if any
recognized variant fell into this category (e.g., Escherichia
coli O157, H5N1 influenza A).
We considered the following pathogen groups: viruses
(including prions), bacteria (including rickettsia), fungi
Host Range and Emerging and
Mark E.J. Woolhouse* and Sonya Gowtage-Sequeria*
1842Emerging Infectious Diseases • www.cdc.gov/eid • Vol. 11, No. 12, December 2005
*Centre for Infectious Diseases, University of Edinburgh,
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
(including microsporidia), protozoa, and helminths. We
did not consider ectoparasites (ticks and lice). Each group
was further divided into subgroups (families) to test
whether biases existed in numbers of emerging and
reemerging species at this level. The viruses were also
divided according to genome type (e.g., negative single-
stranded RNA viruses).
We examined 3 aspects of host range, both for all
pathogens combined and separately for each of the virus-
es, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and helminths. First, we dis-
tinguished pathogen species according to whether they
were known to be zoonotic, using the WHO definition
“diseases or infections which are naturally transmitted
between vertebrate animals and humans” (16). Note that
this definition includes pathogens for which humans are
the main host and other vertebrates are only occasional
hosts, as well as the opposite, but excludes purely human
pathogens that recently evolved from nonhuman
pathogens, e.g., HIV. We then compared the fraction of
emerging or reemerging species that were or were not
zoonotic across the major pathogen groups and within each
group by family.
Second, for all zoonotic species we identified the types
of nonhuman vertebrate host they are known to infect,
using the following broad categories: bats, carnivores, pri-
mates, rodents, ungulates, and other mammals and non-
mammals (including birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish).
We excluded vertebrate intermediate hosts of parasites
with complex life cycles. Host types were ranked by the
number of zoonotic pathogen species associated with
them, and rankings were compared by using Spearman
rank correlation coefficient.
Third, we obtained a crude index of the breadth of host
range by counting the number of the host types that each
pathogen species is known to infect: 0 (i.e., not zoonotic),
1, 2, and 3 or more. We compared the fraction of emerging
and reemerging species across these 4 classes.
For the emerging and reemerging pathogen species, we
identified the main factors believed to drive their increased
incidence, geographic range, or both, by conducting a sys-
tematic review of the emerging diseases literature. We
allocated these drivers to 1 or more broad categories
(Table). Note that although we chose categories that we
considered to be useful and informative for our immediate
purposes, and which were similar to those listed elsewhere
(5), this is inevitably a subjective procedure and alternative
categorizations may be equally valid. We then ranked the
drivers (by number of emerging and reemerging pathogen
species associated with each) and compared the ranking of
drivers for the major pathogen groups and for zoonotic
versus nonzoonotic pathogens.
For the zoonotic species, we distinguished those known
to be transmissible between humans, allowing that this
might be through an indirect route (e.g., a vector or an
intermediate host), from those for which humans can only
acquire infection (directly or indirectly) from a nonhuman
source. For the transmissible zoonotic species, we further
distinguished those that are sufficiently transmissible to
cause major epidemics in human populations from those
that cause only relatively minor outbreaks. This classifica-
tion was intended to distinguish between pathogens with
R0>1 in humans from those with R0<1, where R0is the
basic reproduction number, i.e., the average number of
secondary infections produced by a single primary infec-
tion introduced into a large population of previously unex-
posed hosts. Direct estimates of R0are unavailable for
most zoonotic pathogens.
Throughout the study, we quantified associations as the
relative risk (RR) and tested for statistical significance
using a standard χ2test (with correction for small expect-
ed values). Although these statistical analyses are suscep-
tible to bias introduced by related species (e.g., several
species of hantavirus exist, most of which are zoonotic and
many of which are regarded as emerging or reemerging),
the analysis at the family level is an indication of the extent
of any such bias.
The survey of human pathogens produced a count of
1,407 human pathogen species, with 177 (13%) species
regarded as emerging or reemerging (online Appendix,
available at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol11no12/05-
0997_app.htm). Of all pathogen species, 208 are viruses or
prions, including 77 (37%) regarded as emerging or
reemerging. For bacteria, the counts were 538 and 54
(10%), respectively; for fungi, 317 and 22 (7%), respec-
tively; for protozoa, 57 and 14 (25%), respectively; and for
helminths, 287 and 10 (3%), respectively. These numbers
differ slightly from those previously published (1,3) as a
result of adjustments to taxonomies and the discovery of
previously unknown pathogen species. Clear differences
Host Range and Emerging and Reemerging Pathogens
Emerging Infectious Diseases • www.cdc.gov/eid • Vol. 11, No. 12, December 2005 1843
were found between the pathogen groups (χ24 = 154.3,
p<<0.001), with viruses greatly overrepresented among
emerging and reemerging pathogens and helminths under-
More than 20 virus families contain human pathogens,
with just 4, the Bunyaviridae, Flaviviridae, Togaviridae,
and Reoviridae, accounting for more than half of the
species affecting humans and, likewise, more than half of
the emerging and reemerging species. Overall, no signifi-
cant difference was found between the 9 largest families
(pooling the remainder) in the fraction of species regarded
as emerging or reemerging (χ29 = 14.9, p = 0.09). Nor were
any significant differences found according to genome
type, e.g., between RNA and DNA viruses (χ21 = 0.77, p =
0.38) or between positive and negative single-stranded
RNA viruses (χ21 =3.1, p = 0.08).
More than 60 bacteria families contain human
pathogens; the enterobacteria and the mycobacteria account
for the most species and for the most emerging and
reemerging species. Overall, no significant difference was
found between the 6 largest families (pooling the remain-
der) in the fraction of species regarded as emerging or
reemerging (χ26 = 13.6, p = 0.14). Numbers of species of
emerging and reemerging fungi, protozoa, and helminths
were too small for meaningful comparisons between fami-
lies, but no indication was found that emerging and
reemerging species are concentrated in any particular taxa.
Of the 1,407 human pathogen species, 816 (58%) are
known to be zoonotic. In comparison, of the 177 emerging
or reemerging pathogens, 130 (73%) are known to be
zoonotic. This corresponds to an RR of 2.0 and confirms
the expectation that zoonotic pathogens are disproportion-
ately likely to be associated with emerging and reemerging
infectious diseases. This pattern varies somewhat across
the different pathogen groups: for bacteria and fungi the
association is strongest with RRs of 4.0 and 3.2, respec-
tively; for viruses and protozoa, no obvious association
was found, with RRs of 1.2 and 0.9, respectively; and for
helminths (which are almost all zoonotic but very rarely
emerging or reemerging), RR is 0.3. However, the num-
bers involved are small (particularly for protozoa and
helminths), and these differences were not statistically sig-
nificant (χ24 = 4.03, p = 0.40).
All the defined host types are potential sources of
zoonotic infections, but differences occurred in their impor-
tance (ranked by number of pathogen species supported)
across viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and helminths and
no 1 type consistently dominates (Figure 1A), although
ungulates are the most important overall, supporting over
250 species of human pathogen. Emerging and reemerging
pathogens show similar trends (Figure 1B), with ungulates
again the most important overall, supporting over 50
species. In general, ranking of host types in terms of num-
bers of species correlates well both overall (rs = 0.79, n =
7, p<0.05) and individually for each pathogen group. The
general impression is that the emerging and reemerging
zoonotic pathogens are not unusual in the types of nonhu-
man hosts they infect.
However, when the fraction of emerging and reemerg-
ing species is compared with the breadth of host range (as
the number of host types other than humans), a pattern
becomes apparent (Figure 2). Overall, the fraction tends to
increase with host range: >40% of pathogens with the
broadest host ranges (3 or more types of nonhuman host)
are emerging or reemerging (exact p = 0.042). However,
this trend does not hold for the protozoa and helminths
(although the numbers for these groups are small).
Drivers of Emergence
We identified 10 main categories of drivers of emer-
gence and reemergence and ranked these by the total num-
ber of pathogen species associated with them (Table). The
1844Emerging Infectious Diseases • www.cdc.gov/eid • Vol. 11, No. 12, December 2005
Figure 1. Numbers of species of zoonotic pathogens associated
with different types of nonhuman host. Note that some pathogens
are associated with >1 host. A) All zoonotic species. B) Emerging
and reemerging zoonotic species only.
ranking of drivers across different categories of pathogen
showed poor concordance (e.g., Spearman rank correlation
for bacteria vs. viruses, rs = 0.41, n = 10, p = 0.24). The
most striking discrepancies were as follows: 1) the marked
association of emerging or reemerging fungi with hospital-
ization, poor population health, or both; 2) the greater
importance of pathogen evolution and contaminated food
and water and the lesser importance of international travel
and changes in land use and agriculture for bacteria in
comparison with viruses; 3) the greater importance of
changing land use and agriculture for zoonoses than for
Overall, most zoonotic pathogens are either not trans-
missible (directly or indirectly) between humans at all (i.e.,
humans are a dead-end host) or are only minimally trans-
missible. Examples include rabies virus, Rift Valley fever
virus, and Borrelia burgdorferi (the agent of Lyme dis-
ease). A small minority (≈10%) of pathogen species that
are technically zoonotic are, in fact, spread almost exclu-
sively from person to person (e.g., Mycobacterium tuber-
culosis or measles virus) or can do so once successfully
introduced from a nonhuman source (e.g., some strains of
influenza A, Yersinia pestis, or severe acute respiratory
syndrome (SARS) coronavirus). However, a substantial
minority of zoonotic pathogens (about 25%, i.e., 200
species) are capable of some person-to-person transmis-
sion but do not persist without repeated reintroductions
from a nonhuman reservoir (e.g., E. coli O157,
Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense, or Ebola virus). This
pattern is fairly consistent across the major pathogen
Humans are affected by an impressive diversity of
pathogens; 1,407 pathogenic species of viruses, bacteria,
fungi, protozoa, and helminths are currently recognized.
Of this total, 177 (13%) pathogen species are considered
emerging or reemerging. This number must be viewed
with some caution, given that these terms are still used
somewhat subjectively. More rigorous definitions of
emerging and reemerging have been proposed (5,17,18),
but these are difficult to apply universally because they
require long-term data on distributions and incidences
which are available for only a small subset of infectious
diseases (e.g., malaria  and tuberculosis ).
Moreover, the counts of emerging and reemerging
pathogen species reported here are subject to ascertain-
ment bias. Despite these caveats, our results suggest that
pathogens associated with emerging and reemerging dis-
eases share some common features.
First, emerging and reemerging pathogens are dispro-
portionately viruses, although they are not disproportion-
ately different kinds of viruses. Numerically, RNA viruses
dominate, comprising 37% of all emerging and reemerging
pathogens. RNA viruses are also prominent among the
subset of emerging pathogens that have apparently entered
the human population only in the past few decades, such as
HIV or the SARS coronavirus (21,22). Apossible explana-
tion for this observation is that much higher nucleotide
substitution rates for RNAviruses permit more rapid adap-
tation, greatly increasing the chances of successfully
invading a new host population (21,22).
Second, emerging and reemerging pathogens are not
strongly associated with particular nonhuman host types,
although emerging and reemerging pathogens more often
are those with broad host ranges that often encompass sev-
eral mammalian orders and even nonmammals. This pat-
tern is consistent across the major pathogen groups. The
determinants of host range in general remain poorly under-
stood, but among viruses for which the cell receptor is
known, an association exists between host range and
whether the receptor is phylogenetically conserved (as
measured by the homology of the human and mouse amino
acid sequences) (23).
Emerging and reemerging pathogens have been likened
to weeds (24), and that the associations reported above are
likely reflecting underlying “weediness,” that is, a degree
of biologic flexibility that makes certain pathogens adept
at taking advantage of new epidemiologic opportunities.
This characteristic seems to be reflected in the broad range
of drivers of the emergence or reemergence of pathogens,
ranging from changes in land use and agriculture, through
hospitalization to international travel. Although some driv-
ers are numerically more important than others, the overall
impression is that pathogens are exploiting almost any
Host Range and Emerging and Reemerging Pathogens
Emerging Infectious Diseases • www.cdc.gov/eid • Vol. 11, No. 12, December 20051845
Figure 2. Relationship between breadth of host range (as number
of nonhuman host types, as listed in Figure 1) and the fraction of
pathogen species regarded as emerging or reemerging. A total of
122 zoonotic species (10 of them emerging or reemerging) for
which the host range is unknown are omitted.
change in human ecology that provides new opportunities
for transmission, either between humans or to humans
from a nonhuman source.
Even if a pathogen is capable of infecting and causing
disease in humans, most zoonotic pathogens are not high-
ly transmissible within human populations and do not
cause major epidemics. The possible magnitude of an
infectious disease outbreak is related to the basic reproduc-
tion number, R0(Figure 3). For pathogens that are mini-
mally transmissible within human populations (R0 close to
0), outbreak size is determined largely by the number of
introductions from the reservoir. For pathogens that are
highly transmissible within human populations (R0>>1),
outbreak size is determined largely by the size of the sus-
ceptible population. For pathogens that are moderately
transmissible within human populations (corresponding to
R0 ≈1), notable outbreaks are possible (especially if multi-
ple introductions occur), but the scale of these outbreaks is
very sensitive to small changes in R0. In other words, small
changes in the nature of the host-pathogen interaction can
lead to large increases (or decreases) in the scale of the
public health problem (Figure 3). Such pathogens may be
likely sources of emerging infectious disease problems in
the future. However, we currently have no way of predict-
ing whether a novel human pathogen will behave like
rabies (frequently introduced into the human population,
but not capable of causing major epidemics) or HIV (prob-
ably rarely introduced, but capable of causing a global
In conclusion, this study suggests that biologic and epi-
demiologic correlates of pathogen emergence or reemer-
gence may be identified. However, the most striking
feature of emerging and reemerging pathogens is their
diversity (online Appendix). For this reason, surveillance
and monitoring of infectious disease trends may have to be
broadly targeted to be most effective. Given that three-
fourths of emerging and reemerging pathogens are zoonot-
ic, in many cases this targeting might usefully be extended
beyond at-risk human populations to include populations
of potential animal reservoirs.
We thank Louise Taylor and Sophie Latham for their work
on the original database and Ben Evans for his contribution to the
Dr Woolhouse is professor of infectious disease epidemiol-
ogy in the Centre for Infectious Diseases at the University of
Edinburgh. His research interests include foot-and-mouth dis-
ease, E. coli O157, scrapie, and sleeping sickness. He is an advi-
sor to the UK government on issues relating to infectious disease
Dr Gowtage-Sequeira is a postdoctoral research assistant in
the Division of Animal Health and Welfare at the University of
Edinburgh. Her doctoral research, for the Institute of Zoology in
London, was on the epidemiology of viral infections of canids in
Namibia. She is currently studying the ecology of wild dogs in
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1846 Emerging Infectious Diseases • www.cdc.gov/eid • Vol. 11, No. 12, December 2005
Figure 3. Expected relationship between outbreak size (as fraction
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is the number of primary cases of infection introduced into the
human population from an external source such as a zoonotic
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Address for correspondence: M.E.J. Woolhouse, Centre for Infectious
Diseases, University of Edinburgh, Ashworth Laboratories, Kings
Buildings, West Mains Rd, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK; fax: 44-131-650-
6564; email: email@example.com
Host Range and Emerging and Reemerging Pathogens
Emerging Infectious Diseases • www.cdc.gov/eid • Vol. 11, No. 12, December 20051847