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Vultures in the calving shed, the threat of zoonoses

Not just calves get sick at calving time.

All farm animals naturally carry a number of bacteria, viruses and protozoa that also affect humans. These diseases are known as zoonoses and people working with animals are at risk of acquiring them. At no time of the year is contact between humans and cattle closer than at calving time. Infections can be transmitted during treatment of sick calves and during obstetrical procedures. Transmission can happen through contact with cattle and calves that appear completely normal. And problems just don’t stop at the farm. Visitors during calving season, especially children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, are at risk.

Prevention begins by knowing these diseases exist. Next is paying attention to a few basic principles of hygiene. Simple things like wearing protective, disposable gloves and sleeves, washing hands frequently and wearing protective clothing, or keeping boots and coveralls clean go a long way in avoiding trouble. Veterinarians are very aware of zoonotic diseases and can provide advice and assistance in preventing them.

The table is a summary of potential disease agents that linger for the unaware and careless through calving season. While all can be transmitted between cows, calves and people under other circumstances, the risk is highest during calving season when cows and calves are concentrated. Many of these pathogens are associated with the scouring calf, others are shed by the cow during calving or in the feces as normal inhabitants of the gut. All the diseases listed can be very serious for humans and frequently require medical attention if contracted.

There are numerous zoonotic diseases that can be transferred from cattle to humans. These diseases cause mild to severe symptoms and are a definite concern for farmers and their families. While some of the diseases are rare, their potential for devastating outcomes makes it necessary to take precautions for these diseases seriously. Luckily, many of the precautions taken to prevent these diseases are the same.

Washing hands with soap after handling animals is the most important precaution. Soap should be readily available in the barn/lavatory areas. Unpasteurized milk and milk products should be avoided. This is especially true for children, the elderly, and pregnant women.

All meat should be cooked to appropriate

internal temperatures. Ground beef should be cooked until reaching an internal temperature of 165F and the juices run clear.

Raw meat and eggs should be handled as if they contain infectious organisms.

All surfaces and utensils used to prepare raw foods should be thoroughly washed with hot water and soap. Utensils used on raw foods should not be used later in the cooking or serving process.

If you suspect any of these diseases on your farm, or you have questions about them, contact your veterinarian. If you suspect that you, one of your farm employees, or anyone in your family has any of these diseases, contact your physician immediately.

Veterinarian Ron Clarke writes from Stony Plain, Alta.

About the author


Dr. Ron Clarke

Dr. Ron Clarke prepares this column on behalf of the Western Canadian Association of Bovine Practitioners. Suggestions for future articles can be sent to Canadian Cattlemen ([email protected]) or WCABP ([email protected]).

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