Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Washington State University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee

Zoonoses Associated with Sheep and Goats

This document provides information on various diseases that can be passed from sheep and goats to humans. Often these diseases do not make the animal appear sick but can cause serious illness in humans. Persons with specific medical conditions such as a chronic illness, immunodeficiency and pregnancy may be at higher risk of developing disease or complications from a zoonotic disease and should consult with their physician before working with animals. The diseases associated with sheep or goats include orf, ringworm, Q fever, chlamydiosis, leptospirosis, campylobacterosis, salmonellosis, listeriosis, cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis.

 

Diseases associated with direct contact

Tuberculosis and brucellosis are potential zoonoses in sheep and goats but due to a federally eradication program for Mycobacterium bovis, Brucella abortus and Brucella melitensis, these diseases are rare in the United States except in a few areas where it persists in a wildlife reservoir. Brucella ovis, the primary cause of brucellosis in sheep, does not cause disease in people.

Orf is a viral infection that causes red raised skin lesions around the face and mouth of lambs and the udder on ewes and does. Humans can be infected and develop similar pox-like lesions if they come into direct contact with an animal’s lesions. Dermatophytosis is a fungal skin infection commonly known as “ringworm” seen in both animals and people as scaly round areas of hair loss. Transmission of both ringworm and orf are by direct contact with an infected animal.

 

Diseases associated with contaminated materials

Q fever, Chlamydophila psittaci and Chlamydophila abortus are agents associated with abortion in pregnant sheep and goats but may be also carried by normal animals. There is an especially high concentration of these agents at the time that the animals give birth, so particular care needs to be used in handling new born animals, placental tissues and birth fluids. These agents can be acquired by exposure to placental membranes and fetuses from infected sheep or goats and by aerosol. Chlamydophila infections in pregnant women are associated with infectious abortion or miscarriage. Persons who are pregnant or with chronic disease conditions should consult their physician before working with pregnant or birthing sheep or goats.

Leptospirosis causes reproductive failure, liver and kidney disease in sheep and goats and is typically shed in the urine of infected animals. People acquire the infection by oral ingestion and contact with contaminated urine, placenta, and fetal tissues. The organism can infect through abraded skin. Salmonellosis, campylobacterosis, listeriosis, cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis are acquired by contact and oral ingestion of fecal material from infected animals. Animals infected with these diseases typically have diarrhea but some animals may show no symptoms of disease. Any animal with diarrhea should be suspect of having a zoonotic disease.

 

Transmission of zoonotic diseases

Transmission of zoonotic diseases from animals is primarily by direct contact, contact with contaminated bedding or materials, oral ingestion or inhalation of aerosolized fluids. We can protect ourselves from most injuries and diseases by using the following procedures:

  • Handle animals safely to avoid injury.
  • Do not eat, drink, apply makeup or use tobacco products while handling animals or in animal housing areas.
  • Wear gloves when handling ill animals, animal tissues, body fluids and waste and wash hands after contact.
  • Wear dedicated protective clothing such as a lab coat or coveralls and shoe-covers or boots when handling animals. Launder the soiled clothing separate from your personal clothes and preferably at the animal facility.
  • Wear respiratory protection when appropriate.
  • Keep animal areas clean and disinfect equipment after using it on animals or in animal areas.

Most importantly, familiarize yourself about the animals that you will be working with and the potential zoonotic diseases associated with each species. If at any time, you suspect that you have acquired a zoonotic disease, inform your supervisor and seek medical care.

 

If you have further questions call:

Mike Kluzik at 335-9553, email: mkluzik@wsu.edu

Nina Woodford at 335-6246, email: nwoodford@wsu.edu

IACUC Coordinator at 335-7951, email: iacuc@wsu.edu