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Avoid contracting animal diseases

There are many diseases that farm animals can pass onto humans. Awareness and some simple measures will help to keep you safe.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection capable of infecting many species. Humans commonly catch "lepto" through contact with the urine of an infected animal, particularly cows and pigs. Urine often splashes when handling cows, especially during milking or calving. Recent cases have involved people attempting to control feral pigs and the last mouse plague also contributed to a rise in human lepto cases. Lepto causes flu-like symptoms including high fever, sweating, headaches and muscle soreness.

Another common animal infection causing serious complications in humans is Q-fever. Assisting at the birth of calves, lambs, kids and puppies has seen whole families infected with Q-fever. Q-fever symptoms are similar to those of lepto. 

Human skin infections, including ringworm and orf, may result from handling farm animals. Ringworm is a fungal skin infection that causes scaly rings to form on human hands, arms or legs (it is not due to a worm as its name might imply). Touching a farm gate where infected animals pass through may be enough to infect a human. Scabby mouth affects the mouths and feet of sheep and goats. The virus causes an itchy, raised crusty scab (orf) in people and even the vaccine used to prevent it can infect humans.

Farm dogs that are allowed to eat the offal and carcasses of sheep and goats may pass hydatid tapeworm eggs in their faeces. These eggs attach to the dog's fur, bedding and kennel area. Eggs unknowingly eaten by a child or adult slowly develop into a large internal cyst, which can be life-threatening.

There are a few simple measures to help you stay well. Protect yourself by wearing gloves appropriate to the task, and cover any skin cuts or abrasions when handling livestock. Wash exposed skin thoroughly with soap and water at the end of the job. Closely supervise children when they have had contact with farm animals to ensure they wash their hands properly and avoid hand-to-mouth activities. And, remember to tell your doctor you have had contact with farm animals if you develop flu symptoms or a skin condition.

For further information:

Bill Johnson 
Team Leader Animal Biosecurity and Welfare 
South East Local Land Services
Mobile: 0428 484 674

Debra Thompson
Senior Land Services Officer (Communications)
South East Local Land Services
Telephone: 02 4224 9707