All farm animals naturally carry a range of diseases, some of which can also affect humans. These diseases are known as zoonoses, and if you work with animals your health may be at risk from them.
Zoonoses are caused by micro-organisms, which are subject to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH). COSHH requires employers and self-employed people to:
- assess the risks to health from work activities which involve a hazardous substance (eg a micro-organism);
- prevent or, where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately control exposure to the hazardous substances;
- introduce and maintain control measures;
- inform, instruct and train employees about the risks and precautions to be taken;
- regularly review risk assessments and the effectiveness of control measures.
Diseases transmitted from animals to humans can also affect visitors to farms - especially children or the elderly, who are more vulnerable to infection. These illnesses include those resulting from infection with the organisms Escherichia coli O157 (E coli O157) and Cryptosporidium parvum.
Below is a list of zoonoses with links to supplementary information on both the disease and good occupational hygiene practices to control the spread of zoonoses, including using personal protective equipment (PPE); and efficient hand washing techniques using warm or hot and cold running water with soap. Hand gels should not be used as an alternative for cleaning hands.
|Anthrax is an extremely rare but potentially life threatening bacterial disease that can be transmitted to humans through contact with infected animals or animal products.
|Cattle, Sheep, Pigs, Goats
|Avian influenza is a disease of birds. Exposure may occur in those who are in close contact with infected birds or who work with materials or products from infected birds.
|Bovine tuberculosis (bovine TB) is a bacterial disease of humans and animals. Clinical symptoms are similar to other forms of TB.
|Cattle, Deer, Alpacas, Llamas
|Brucellosis (also known as undulant or Mediterranean fever) is a highly transmissible bacterial infection. Human cases are very rare in the UK. Transmission is most commonly via contact with infected animals or ingestion of unpasteurised milk or milk products.
|Cattle, Pigs, Sheep, Goats, Camels
|Campylobacteriosis is the most common cause of infectious diarrhoea in the UK. It mostly affects very young children and the elderly.
|Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)
|CJD is a very rare, fatal neurodegenerative disease, which is thought to be caused by the build up of an abnormal form of the naturally occurring 'prion' protein in the brain.
|Cryptosporidiosis is an infectious diarrhoeal disease. It can be transmitted via contact with infected animals. It can be spread from person to person where there is poor hygiene.
|Cattle, Sheep, Deer, Goats
|E. coli O157
|E. coli O157 is a bacterium that lives in the gut of animals. It can be transmitted via contact with infected animals or their faeces, and can cause illness ranging from diarrhoea to kidney failure in humans. In some cases the illness can be fatal. Young children and the elderly are at the greatest risk.
|Cattle, Sheep, Deer, Goats,
|Verotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC)
|Erysipeloid is a rare bacterial skin condition. It can be acquired from a wide range of infected animals.
|Pigs, Fish, Birds
|Giardiasis is a diarrhoeal disease caused by a parasite. The disease is spread via the ingestion of contaminated water or food, or by direct contact with infected animals or humans.
|Pigs, Sheep, Horses, Dogs, Cats
|Hantavirus infections are caused by a group of viruses which are carried by rodents. It is generally spread via contact with urine, faeces or saliva from infected rodents.
|Hydatid disease is caused by the canine tapeworm (Echinococcus). It can be transmitted to humans via infected dog faeces.
|Leptospirosis (Weil's Disease and Hardjo)
|Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection found worldwide, of which there are two forms: Weil's disease is most commonly acquired from water contaminated with rat urine. Hardjo is similar to Weil's disease but is generally caught from infected cattle.
|Louping ill is a viral infection of which affects sheep and grouse in the UK. It very rarely causes disease in humans.
|Lyme disease is a potentially serious bacterial infection transmitted via tick bites. Ticks are common in forested areas, heathland, moorland and suburban parks.
|Newcastle disease is a highly contagious disease of birds, but is very rare in humans in the UK. It can be transmitted to humans through contact with infected birds or their products.
|Orf is a skin disease of sheep and goats caused by a virus. It can spread to humans who are in close contact with infected animals. It causes localised lesions on the skin and is not a serious disease.
|Ovine chlamydiosis is a bacterial disease acquired from infected sheep or goats. In most humans it leads to a mild flu-like disease, but in pregnant women it can cause a severe life-threatening disease in the mother and lead to stillbirth or miscarriage of the unborn child.
|Psittacosis (also known as ornithosis or parrot fever) is primarily an infection of birds. It can be transmitted to humans by breathing in infected material or occasionally by oral infection.
|Q fever is a bacterial disease. In most people it only causes a mild flu-like illness, but it can lead to more severe disease.
|Sheep, Goats, Cattle
|Rabies is a very rare but acute viral infection. The virus is transmitted via an animal bite, scratch or lick, generally from a dog in the case of classical rabies and from a bat in the case of bat rabies.
|Ringworm is a fungal skin disease of humans and other animals. It causes a characteristic ring-like red rash on the skin, which is not usually serious.
|Salmonella bacteria usually cause a mild, self-limiting diarrhoeal disease, although it can occasionally be severe. It is most commonly transmitted via food, but can also be found in faecally-contaminated soil or water.
|Poultry, Pigs, plus many other animals
|Streptococcus suis is a bacterium that causes disease in pigs. It is generally spread from pigs to humans by direct contact, with the bacteria entering the body through cuts or abrasions in the skin.
|Streptococcus zooepidemicus is a bacterium that infects cattle and horses. It is a very rare human disease but can acquired by direct contact with infected animals.
|Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease. For most healthy people there are no disease symptoms or mild flu-like symptoms. However, it can be a serious disease in pregnant or immunocompromised people.
|Sheep, Birds, Cats
|West Nile Virus
|West Nile virus infects birds and is spread to humans and horses via a bite from an infected mosquito. Transmission to humans in the UK is very rare.