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Working Safely with Animals
Occupational Health and Safety for Staff with Substantial Contact with SHEEP or GOATS (Updated December 2005)
| Required Health Screening for All Sheep Users | Recommended Preventive Measures |
| Infectious Diseases | Allergies | Response to Injury |
Staff working with sheep in the research setting should be aware of potential health risks, primarily the airborne rickettsial organism, Coxiella burnetii (common name is Q-fever). Sheep can be carriers, generally without symptoms. Concentrations of the organism 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 herd.

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.

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Initial Screening

  1. Health History and symptom review.
  2. Collection of blood to be screened for Qfever antibodies.

Annual Screening

  1. Symptom review form is submitted to the CDP for review.
  2. Collection of blood to be screened for Q-fever antibodies.

NOTE: When seeking medical advice for any illness, inform your physician that you work with sheep.

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  • 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 restraining sheep
    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 species altogether.

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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 asymptomatic.

  • Reservoir/source of infection to people: The rickettsia are shed in the
    urine, feces, milk and, most importantly, birth products(placenta, amniotic
    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 products;
  • 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 immune system.

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 to people;
  • Transmission: Transmission can be by direct contact with lesions or indirectly by contaminated fomites (hair, clothing);
  • 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.

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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 may 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.

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In case of injury that breaks the skin:

  1. Wash any injured site with soap and water for at least 15 minutes;
  2. Control bleeding by applying direct
    pressure with a sterile gauze or bandage;
  3. Cover wound with clean bandage (do not apply ointment or spray);
  4. Seek 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.