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Pregnant women warned over risk from birthing livestock

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Farah Ahmed

9th January 2014 – Pregnant women who come into close contact with sheep and other farm animals that are giving birth may risk their own health, and that of their unborn child, government experts are warning.

Although the risk to human pregnancies from being infected by livestock is extremely small, the Department of Health, Scottish Government, Health and Safety Executive and other agencies issue annual advice about how to avoid the dangers.

Lambing season

Infections that can affect female sheep (ewes) and which could be passed to pregnant women include:

They say the risks are not only associated with sheep, and that cattle and goats can also carry similar infections. Also, the risks persist all year round, even though the majority of lambs are born in the spring.

Take precautions

To avoid the possible risk of infection, pregnant women should:

  • Not help ewes to lamb, or to provide assistance with a cow that is calving or a nanny goat that is kidding
  • Avoid contact with aborted or new-born lambs, calves or kids or with the afterbirth, birthing fluids or materials (e.g. bedding) contaminated by such birth products
  • Avoid handling (including washing) clothing, boots or any materials that may have come into contact with animals that have recently given birth, their young or afterbirths. Potentially contaminated clothing will be safe to handle after being washed on a hot cycle
  • Ensure contacts or partners who have attended lambing ewes or other animals giving birth take appropriate health and hygiene precautions, including the wearing of personal protective equipment and clothing and adequate washing to remove any potential contamination.

Farmers 'must minimise risk'

Scotland's chief medical officer Sir Harry Burns says in a statement: "Although the number of human pregnancies affected by contact with an infected animal is extremely small, it is important that pregnant women are aware of the potential risks and take appropriate precautions."

Government agencies are also reminding farmers that they have a responsibility to minimise the risks to pregnant women, including members of their family, the public and professional staff visiting farms.

Reviewed on January 09, 2014

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