(Part 1 of a four-part series on zoonoses)

We should be aware that there are a few diseases of livestock that can spread to humans.  These are called zoonoses, and many of them are particularly common in spring.

The main zoonoses to be aware of in spring are those causing an abortion in ewes and cows, and diarrhoea in newborn animals.  Aborted products and runny poo are often loaded with microbes that can easily be taken into the mouth of anyone coming in contact with them.  In fact, some animals may carry and excrete some of these microbes even when they appear perfectly healthy.

There is no need for alarm though. These zoonotic diseases can readily be prevented by taking a few common-sense precautions.  The main precaution is to avoid putting anything near your mouth that has been in contact with farm animals, especially animals that are scouring or that have been aborted. Aborted material and runny poo can contaminate clothing, boots, and utensils, so these should be treated as sources of infection too. .  Most people know to wash their hands before eating, but they should also wash hands before smoking ….. or biting their nails!

Some of the diseases that cause abortion in sheep, eg salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis, can spread to humans to cause severe diarrhoea.

Some of the diseases that cause scouring in very young animals, especially hand-reared animals, can also cause diarrhoea in humans, especially children.  These diseases include campylobacteriosis, cryptosporidiosis and colibacillosis.

What can you do to prevent these diseases?

  • Anyone working with farm animals must avoid putting anything in their mouths that have been in contact with animals.
  • Any farm animal that has been aborted, particularly if she appears unwell, should be treated by a veterinarian.  Veterinary advice should be obtained if very young hand-reared farm animals have diarrhoea.
  • Anything that might be contaminated by infectious material (eg diarrhoea and products of abortion) should be disposed of where it cannot be accessed by any person or other animals (eg dogs).

These are all simple and easy preventives and they will help ensure that your family enjoy good health this spring!

There are other farm animal zoonoses too, including ringworm and leptospirosis.  We will deal with these in the third article in this series.  The next article in the series will be about some common zoonoses associated with dogs and cats.