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Home Topics Infectious Diseases Infections A-Z Infection risks during the lambing season General Information ›  General advice to pregnant women during the lambing season

General advice to pregnant women during the lambing season

Background

Women who are, or who may be, pregnant should avoid close contact with sheep during lambing periods. Pregnant women who come into close contact with sheep during lambing may risk their own health and that of their unborn child, from infections which can occur in some ewes. These include chlamydiosis (enzootic abortion of ewes - EAE), toxoplasmosis and listeriosis, which are common causes of abortion in ewes. Q fever (caused by the organism Coxiella burnetii) can also be acquired following exposure during lambing, as the organisms may be present in birth fluids of animals (not just sheep) which have no clinical signs of disease.

Although these infections are uncommon, and the number of human pregnancies affected by contact with sheep is extremely small, it is important that pregnant women are aware of the potential risks.

It is also important to note that these risks are not only confined to the spring (when the majority of lambs are born) nor are the risks only associated with sheep: cows and goats that have recently given birth can also carry similar infections.

Prevention

To avoid the possible risk of infection, pregnant women are advised that they should:

  • Not help to lamb ewes, or to provide assistance with a cow that is calving or a nanny goat that is kidding
  • Avoid 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
  • Avoid handling (including washing) clothing, boots or any materials  that may have come into contact with animals that have recently given birth, their young or afterbirths. Potentially contaminated clothing will be safe to handle after being washed on a hot cycle
  • Ensure people they come into contact with who have attended lambing ewes or other animals giving birth take appropriate health and hygiene precautions, including the wearing of personal protective equipment and adequate washing to remove any potential contamination

In addition it is advisable to:

  • Scrub hands, and keep finger nails short and clean
  • Wash clothes used in lambing separately. Pregnant women should not handle dirty clothes worn during the lambing season
  • Sleep in separate bedrooms if it is not possible to clean up thoroughly after night-time lambing activities
  • Not handle any vaccines, and avoid contact with recently vaccinated sheep

Pregnant women should seek medical advice if they experience fever or influenza-like symptoms, or if concerned that they could have acquired infection from a farm environment.

Risk assessments

Farmers have a responsibility to minimise risks to pregnant women, including members of their family, the public and professional staff visiting farms. Any action should be determined by their risk assessment required under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 and also the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Disposal of afterbirths

In the interests of hygiene, farmers should dispose of all afterbirths promptly and safely in accordance with relevant legislation. The Animal By-Products Regulations (external link) requires animal by-products, including afterbirth material, to be disposed of via an approved route such as rendering, incineration, knackers yards, etc.

Published information

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) booklet entitled New and Expectant Mothers at Work – A Guide for Employers provides guidance on protecting the health and safety of workers who are new or expectant mothers. This is available as a free PDF on the HSE website: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/infection-mothers.pdf (external link)

A publication has been released by the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) entitled Infections at work: Controlling the risks – A guide for employers and the self-employed on identifying, assessing and controlling the risks of infection in the workplace. This can be accessed on the HSE website: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/infection.pdf (external link) or by ringing the HSE Helpline on 0845 345 0055.

Further advice from HSE is available:

'Infections at Work'  -  http://www.hse.gov.uk/biosafety/diseases/zoonoses.htm (external link)

'Common Zoonoses in Agriculture' -  http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/ais2.pdf (external link)

Further information about lambing risks:

 


Last reviewed: 3 January 2014