Can you get diseases from sheep and goats? (Shepherd’s Notebook)
(Editor’s note: Susan Schoenian is a sheep and goat specialist with the University of Maryland.)
COVID-19 has put the spotlight on zoonotic diseases: One Health.
Though there is no proof, COVID is considered to be a zoonotic disease.
A zoonotic disease is an infectious disease that animals can transmit to people.
There are several diseases you can get from sheep/goats.
Most you get from direct contact with the animal(s) and/or their environment.
Others are foodborne and come from consuming contaminated food or drink.
People with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable.
The most common zoonotic disease in sheep/goats is sore mouth, called orf in people.
Sore mouth is a highly contagious skin disease caused by a virus in the pox family.
It causes painful lesions on the animals, mostly on the mouth and nose, but other places, too.
Soremouth can cause painful sores in people. Secondary bacterial infections can also occur, including MRSA. People get sore mouth when they handle infected animals or use the live vaccine.
Club lamb fungus is a highly contagious fungal infection of the skin.
It is caused by many of the practices that are common to showing sheep: frequent washing, close shearing, and blanketing.
The disease is spread by contact and sharing of contaminated equipment.
It can easily be transmitted to people, causing nasty ringworm infections.
Most of the organisms that cause abortion (termination of pregnancy) in sheep/goats are zoonotic: cache valley virus. border disease, brucellosis, campylobacter, chlamydia, leptospirosis, listeriosis, Q fever, salmonella, and toxoplasmosis.
Most cause influenza-like symptoms. Some can cause miscarriage.
The most common causes of abortion in sheep/goats are chlamydia (enzootic), toxoplasmosis, and campylobacter (vibrio).
Pregnant women should not handle aborted fetuses, placentas, or other birth fluids.
Gloves or sleeves should always be worn when handling these materials or assisting with births.
Aborting females should be isolated.
All aborted material and bedding should be destroyed to prevent spread of the disease-causing organisms.
While you’re more likely to get e. coli and salmonella from eating raw foods, you can get infected by having direct contact with infected animals or their feces.
E. coli infections sometimes occur at petting farms or fairs.
This is why hand washing stations are now standard.
Sheep/goats don’t seem to be significant reservoirs for infections with giardia and cryptosporidium.
Caseous lymphadenitis causes abscesses in sheep/goats.
Direct contact with the pus can cause painful skin wounds in people. Johne’s disease is currently not classified as a zoonotic disease, but there is increasing evidence that it may be associated with Crohn’s disease.
Rabies can be transmitted from any mammal to another.
There is no evidence that scrapie can be transmitted to people.
Internal parasites are usually host-specific. Different organisms cause pink eye in livestock.
Most zoonotic diseases can be prevented with common sense, starting with good sanitation and personal hygiene.
Wear gloves, coveralls, and boots when working with livestock. Always wash your hands thoroughly after contact.
Disinfect equipment and facilities as needed. Be sure to cook meat sufficiently and pasteurize milk.
For more Small Ruminant Q&A’s go to http://www.sheep101.info/QandA.