child petting lamb
Child petting lamb

Girl touching sheep
Handicapped child petting lamb

Assisting lamb
Helping lamb

Soremouth lesions
Soremouth lesions



    In sickness and in health

    A disease that can be naturally transmitted from animals to people is called a zoonotic disease. There are a handful of diseases that people can get from contact with sheep.

    If infective sheep feces are handled, diarrhea infections such as cryptosporidia, salmonella, or e. coli 0157:H7 are possible, though uncommon. The risk is greatest for children and those with compromised immune systems. Prevention is simple: wash your hands in warm, soapy water after handling sheep and/or their feces.

    The biggest health risk sheep pose is to pregnant women. This is because some of the same organisms that cause abortion in ewes can cause a woman to abort (miscarry). The most common causes of abortion in sheep are enzootic abortion (chylamydia), vibrio (campylobacter) and toxoplasmosis. Domestic cats are the common carrier of toxoplasmosis. Because of the risk, pregnant women should not be involved with ewes that are lambing. It is always a good idea to wear gloves when assisting with the delivery of lambs or handling fetuses or placental fluids.

    Soremouth (orf)
    Soremouth (orf) is the most common skin disease affecting sheep (and goats). It is caused by a virus in the pox family. It can be transmitted to humans and cause painful sores on the hands, arms, and face. The virus can be transmitted by handling infected sheep or by administering the live vaccine to animals. A study in England showed that 23 percent of sheep farmers and sheep farm employees have been infected with orf.

    Ringworm (club lamb fungus)
    Ringworm (also called club lamb fungus) is a fungal disease that can be transmitted from sheep to sheep and sheep to people. The lesions in people appear as a red, thickened rash. In extreme cases, ringworm can cause disfiguring scars.

    People, especially children and older people, can become unnecessarily injured when working with livestock, including sheep. Safety should be the primary concern when handling all livestock. Safe handling is also less stressful to the livestock. The use of specialized handling equipment minimizes the stress and risk of injury to both the shepherd and animals.

    Don't get rammed
    Some shepherds have been seriously injured by rams (intact male sheep). Rams don't need to have horns to be dangerous. Several years ago, a Suffolk ram was implicated in the death of an elderly couple. Under no circumstances should a person trust a ram and turn his or her back on a ram.

    Even the most docile ram can become aggressive when you least expect it. It is a ram's natural behavior to charge, if he thinks you are challenging his dominant position in the flock. Rams are especially aggressive during the rutting (mating) season. Overly aggressive rams should not be kept.

    No mad sheep
    Sheep (and goats) can get scrapie, a fatal, neurological disease that is in the same family of diseases as "mad cow" disease (bovine spongiform encephalapathy), chronic wasting disease (of mule deer and elk) and classic and new variant Creutzfeld-Jakob's disease (affecting people).

    There is no evidence to suggest that people can contract scrapie or any other transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) from contact with livestock or by consuming sheep meat or products made from sheep milk.


Last updated 19-Apr-2021
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