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Subclinical infection and asymptomatic carriage of gastrointestinal zoonoses: occupational exposure, environmental pathways, and the anonymous spread of disease

  • R. S. QUILLIAM (a1), P. CROSS (a2), A. PRYSOR WILLIAMS (a2), G. EDWARDS-JONES (a2), R. L. SALMON (a3), D. RIGBY (a4), R. M. CHALMERS (a5), D. Rh. THOMAS (a3) and D. L. JONES (a2)...


Asymptomatic carriage of gastrointestinal zoonoses is more common in people whose profession involves them working directly with domesticated animals. Subclinical infections (defined as an infection in which symptoms are either asymptomatic or sufficiently mild to escape diagnosis) are important within a community as unknowing (asymptomatic) carriers of pathogens do not change their behaviour to prevent the spread of disease; therefore the public health significance of asymptomatic human excretion of zoonoses should not be underestimated. However, optimal strategies for managing diseases where asymptomatic carriage instigates further infection remain unresolved, and the impact on disease management is unclear. In this review we consider the environmental pathways associated with prolonged antigenic exposure and critically assess the significance of asymptomatic carriage in disease outbreaks Although screening high-risk groups for occupationally acquired diseases would be logistically problematical, there may be an economic case for identifying and treating asymptomatic carriage if the costs of screening and treatment are less than the costs of identifying and treating those individuals infected by asymptomatic hosts.

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Corresponding author

*Author for correspondence: Dr R. S. Quilliam, Biological and Environmental Sciences, School of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling, FK9 4LA, UK. (Email:


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