As the lambing season approaches, the Department of Health, along with other government agencies, has re-emphasised the low but significant risks to pregnant women of zoonoses from sheep during lambing, as well as from other farm animals that are giving birth.
It advises that women who are or may be pregnant should avoid sheep and other farm animals who are giving or who have recently given birth.
The most significant risk to pregnant women is from ovine chlamydiosis, which causes enzootic abortion of ewes and can lead to abortion in humans. However, the advice warns that such risks are not only associated with sheep; cattle and goats that have recently given birth can also carry similar infections.
While 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, including:
- not providing assistance with the birthing of farm animals
- avoiding 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
- not handling soiled clothing, boots or any materials that may have come into contact with animals that have recently given birth, their young or afterbirths
- ensuring contacts who have attended farm animal births take appropriate health and hygiene precautions to remove any potential contamination.
Pregnant women from a farm environment should seek medical advice if they experience fever or influenza-like symptoms.