Zoonoses – the ‘invisible’ danger of calving

Zoonoses – the ‘invisible’ danger of calving

22 May 2019

Animal-related farm workplace injuries increase sharply during the calving season and can result in people taking sick leave during one of the busiest times of the year.

Injuries from animal bites and being hit by moving objects – be that flying hooves or a sideswipe from a head – peak in July and August.

But the less visible risks of close contact with cows can prove equally dangerous and debilitating with potentially longer-term consequences, says Al McCone, Sector Lead, Agriculture, for WorkSafe New Zealand.

Zoonotic diseases (zoonoses) are naturally transmitted between humans and animals. Zoonoses include Leptospirosis, or ‘dairy farm fever’, cryptosporidiosis, campylobacter, salmonella and ringworm.

For many years, the number of leptospirosis notifications in New Zealand actually fell, but a 2016 Massey University PhD study still found human leptospirosis continues to occur at a high rate here compared to other high-income countries - and primarily affects people working with livestock.

A sharp spike in leptospirosis notifications in 2017 saw incidences more than double. A previously rare leptospirosis strain, Tarassovi, has also been identified in New Zealand cattle in recent years, with dairy farm workers comprising 33 percent of notified human cases.

It’s recommended farmers consider a multi-layered system for reducing harm. Preventing spread between animals is important and talking to your vet is a good idea.

It’s also important to prevent opportunities for the disease to spread by eliminating standing water where animals urinate, and reducing rodents.

The next layer of defence is to work on infection avoidance. "Stringent hygiene and making sure everyone working with stock is aware of risks around zoonoses – and continuing communication around the issue - is the best approach," says Al.

"Managing your zoonoses risk should be an integral part of your planning for calving. You need to take it into account when setting up the calving shed and preparing your team."

Leptospirosis can easily be transferred to humans via animal urine, through scratches and grazes, or via mucous membranes in the eyes, nose or mouth.

Even a splash or fine spray of urine or contact with urine-contaminated water can spread the bacteria which cause infection.

A key requirement for managing the risk is providing access to running water, soap and a hygienic drying method such as paper towels, plus a suitable hand-sanitiser/disinfectant. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), like masks, waterproof gloves and boots, should also be provided.

"A bucket of water and bar of soap in the calving or dairy shed is not adequate," says Al.

"If you haven’t got access to these facilities as part of your calving set-up, now’s the time to get on to it."

Those working with livestock should dry any urine splash immediately then wash the area using soap and water. Wash out fresh or old cuts and grazes with water and disinfectant, and dry well. Flush out the mouth, eyes and any exposed skin with lots of running water and wash and dry facial hair well. Do all this before eating, drinking or smoking.

More information can be found on the worksafe website Worksafe.govt.nz

Article supplied by Worksafe