Harmful Livestock Diseases
There are dozens of diseases farm livestock can pass to humans. But many such diseases are rare, and some apply only to certain parts of the world. Farm workers can also prevent disease by using Veterinary Medicines and managing livestock responsibly.
Even so, there are diseases in the UK that can place farm workers and the general public at risk.
Bovine TuberculosisCattle are prone to catch bovine TB. This can spread to people who handle cattle and who come into contact with infected nasal mucus. Even someone who has had a BCG injection is at risk.
BSEBSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) is a disease that’s fatal to cattle. Unfortunately, it can spread to humans who have eaten, perhaps unknowingly, the spinal cord or brain of infected animals. BSE appears in the human body as vCJD (variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease). There is no evidence in the UK that farm workers can contract vCJD from working with cattle.
Cattle-associated leptospirosis (CAL)The government believes that at least 60% of UK cattle have CAL. Farm workers can pick up the disease if cattle urine splashes into the nose, mouth or eyes, or enters broken skin. Personal protective clothing and the control of urine in milking parlours can help prevent this.
CryptosporidiosisCryptosporidiosis can be present in younger animals such as calves and lambs. People may contract it when they come into contact with animal dung. Young children and old people are particularly susceptible. The disease causes diarrhoea and stomach pain.
E coli O157E coli O157 is a bacterium. Cattle, sheep and goats may have it in their guts. This doesn’t create any problems for the animals. Humans, however, can catch the disease from animal dung.
OrfOrf can lead to ulcers on the arms, hands and face. The disease spreads from cuts and abrasions on infected sheep and goats.
PsittacosisPoultry are prone to carry psittacosis. It passes to humans when they breathe in poultry dust or come into contact with the nasal mucus from an infected bird.
RingwormHorses, sheep, pigs and cattle often get ringworm. This is a fungus that spreads to humans when the spores enter the skin through grazes and cuts. Ulcers then form on the neck, head, arms and hands. The spores can lie around a farm wherever infected animals have passed.
SalmonellaMost farm animals can carry the salmonella bacterium. The most likely way humans get the disease is by eating infected food. But it’s possible to develop salmonella poisoning by touching animal dung.
Streptococcus suis (S suis)Pigs may carry S suis without giving any sign that they’re infected. The bacterium can pass to humans by entering cuts on the skin or by inhalation. Sensible pig management and veterinary advice can usually control S suis.
General AdviceThe government has general advice about keeping harmful livestock diseases at bay. Farm workers should keep their hands and their premises clean. They must always wash their hands before drinking, eating and smoking.
Farm visitors should also ensure they wash their hands even if they haven’t touched any animals. There is more specific advice for certain diseases. The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) has details.