The dry and windy conditions currently being experienced across the Northern Tablelands present particular challenges.
Northern Tablelands Local Lands Services district vet Nigel Brown is acutely aware of the increased risk of zoonotic diseases posing a particular threat under the current conditions.
Zoonotic diseases can be passed from animals to humans, but a large number of infections affect both animals and people. Examples include Q Fever, tetanus, leptospirosis, salmonellosis and listeriosis as well as parasite diseases like hydatidosis.
“Drought reduces the resistance of animals to disease. They are more susceptible to infection during drought as a result of reduced immunity. A protein deficiency in the diet leads to weight loss and a fall in the level of antibodies, leading to the diseases being more readily able to break out and cause a problem,” Nigel said.
“Similarly, people who are run down due to constant stock-feeding could, in turn, be suffering from lowered immunity and be more susceptible.”
At this time of year, direct contact with birthing calves and sheep carries a very high risk of infection by various zoonoses.
Nigel is quick to point out that zoonotic infections in people may occur in many ways such as through wounds, the mouth or nose. For example, infection with bacteria causing Q fever can occur by breathing-in contaminated air or dust which may be prevalent in the current conditions.
Human infection with Coxiella burnetii, the organism causing Q fever, can cause high fever, muscle and joint pain, severe sweats and headaches and extreme fatigue, with long term effects on the heart and liver.
“The organism is able to survive for long periods. This means that you don’t have to be handling the animal, exposure to dust could pose a risk of infection,” says Nigel.
Q Fever can also be contracted from animal birth fluids, tissues or excretions. The bacteria survive well in air, soil and dust and can infect animal products as well as materials such as clothing.
Nigel cautions “Q Fever is highly debilitating. Prevention is better than cure. People working in high risk environments such as working with livestock on farms or abattoirs, near saleyards or even wildlife carers, are advised to be vaccinated. This also applies to people living on or near high-risk activity, who may not necessarily be in direct contact with livestock.”
Nigel urges the practice of preventative measures including contacting your medical advisor.
“Personal hygiene is important. Washing hands after handling animals and before preparing or eating food or smoking cigarettes. It is important to wash vegetables grown in manure in the garden,” he said.
Wearing protective clothing (and sometimes masks), covering wounds and wearing disposable gloves when handling or disposing of high-risk animal products such as aborted carcasses and placentae, are equally important preventative measures.
Further information is available by contacting Northern Tablelands Local Lands Services on 02 6732 8800
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