Staff working with sheep in the research setting
should be aware of potential health risks, primarily the airborne
organism, Coxiella burnetii (common name is Q-fever). Sheep can
be carriers, generally without symptoms. Concentrations of the
are higher in the birthing products of female
sheep such as placenta, therefore staff involved
in fetal research or handling tissues
from fetuses or pregnant sheep are generally
at higher risk.
To minimize the chance of transmission from
animals to staff, UCSF purchases all sheep from a sero-negative
Additionally, all staff working with
sheep are required to receive safety training and a preliminary
health clearance before being
granted access to the animal facility.
Staff are also required to complete an annual
health screen in person.
SCREENING FOR ALL SHEEP USERS
- Health History and symptom
- Collection of blood to be screened for Qfever
- Symptom review form is submitted
to the CDP for review.
- Collection of blood to be screened for Q-fever
NOTE: When seeking medical advice for any illness,
inform your physician that you work with sheep.
- Follow posted Personal Protective Equipment
(PPE) requirements at all times;
- Only trained personnel should handle sheep. Handling
and restraint training can be scheduled through IACUC Training & Compliance;
- Wash hands after handling animals;
- Never wear protective clothing
outside the animal areas;
- Injuries such as back strain can occur from handling and
due to their size and strength; therefore individuals with
pre-existing back or joint problems may need assistance when
working with sheep, or may be precluded from working with the
Q Fever: This rickettsial
disease, caused by Coxiella burnetii, is most commonly
associated with sheep, although goats, cattle and other mammals
can be sources of infection. Infected ruminants are usually
- Reservoir/source of infection to people:
The rickettsia are shed in the
urine, feces, milk and, most importantly, birth products(placenta,
fluid and blood) of infected animals;
- Transmission: Q-fever
is spread by aerosolization of infected body fluids. Disease
transmission can be reduced by careful disposal of birth
- Disease in people: In most cases
Q -fever is manifested by flu-like symptoms that usually
resolve within 2 weeks – Q-fever is sometimes misdiagnosed
as a flu.
Acute Q-fever infection can be severe, especially
in the elderly or in immuno-suppressed people where it can
cause hepatitis and/or endocarditis. Q-fever can also become
chronic and cause significant health problems, particularly
in individuals who have valvular heart disease or a weakened
Contagious Echthyma (Orf) This
poxviral disease is known as contagious echthyma or soremouth
in sheep and goats, and orf in people. In ruminants, it is
evidenced by exudative lesions found on the muzzle, eyelids,
oral cavity, feet or external genitalia. It is more common
in youngeranimals. The disease in ruminants is highlycontagious
to humans and other animals.
- Reservoir/source of infection to
people: Infected sheep or goats are the source of infection
- Transmission: Transmission can be by direct contact
with lesions or indirectly by contaminated fomites (hair,
- Disease in people: The self-limiting infection,
which is usually found on the
hands, consists of painful nodules, cutaneous ulcerative
lesions, and usually lasts 1-2 months. No treatment.
Animal related allergies are common. Although
there have been some reported incidences of allergies to sheep
(milk, lanolin), the risk of developing allergies directly
to sheep is low. However, the sheep containment environment
have allergens present such as hay and dust. Wearing a respirator
will minimize exposure to allergens. N95 respirators are available
through LARC after fit testing by the Office of Environmental
Health and Safety (OEH&S).
Contact the CDP for medical clearance prior to fit testing.
RESPONSE TO INJURY
In case of injury that
breaks the skin:
- Wash any injured site with soap and water
for at least 15 minutes;
- Control bleeding by applying direct
pressure with a sterile gauze or bandage;
- Cover wound with
clean bandage (do not apply ointment or spray);
advice from emergency room physician.
Sheep are large animals and may butt or trample
in their attempt to flee. Report any injuries to your supervisor
and seek medical attention immediately.