What diseases can I get from sheep/goats?


There are several.

A zoonotic disease is an infectious disease which can be transmitted from animals to people. Zoonotic diseases are becoming increasingly important: One Health. Though there is no proof, Covid-19 is considered to be a zoonotic disease.

There are several diseases you can get from sheep/goats. Most you get from direct contact with the animal(s) and/or their environment. Thus, farmers, veterinarians, and others who work directly with sheep/goats are most at risk. Some zoonotic diseases are foodborne and come from consuming contaminated food or drink.

Soremouth (orf) is a skin disease caused by a virus in the pox family. It is a common disease of sheep/goats. While self-limiting, it is highly contagious and can be transmitted to people. In people it causes painful lesions, usually on the hands, that can last for several months. Secondary bacterial infections can also occur, including MRSA. People get soremouth when they handle infected animals or use the live vaccine.

Club lamb fungus is a highly contagious fungal infection of the skin. It is caused by many of the practices that are common to showing sheep:  frequent washing, close shearing, and blanketing. The disease is spread by contact and sharing of contaminated equipment. It can easily be transmitted to people, causing nasty ringworm infections.

Most of the organisms that cause abortion (termination of pregnancy) in sheep/goats are zoonotic:  cache valley virus. border disease, brucellosis, campylobacter, chlamydia, leptospirosis, listeriosis, Q fever, salmonella, and toxoplasmosis. Most cause influenza-like symptoms. Some can cause miscarriage. The most common causes of abortion in sheep/goats are chlamydia (enzootic), toxoplasmosis, and campylobacter (vibrio).

Pregnant women should not handle aborted fetuses, placentas, or other birth fluids. Gloves or sleeves should always be worn when handling these materials or assisting with births. Aborting females should be isolated. All aborted material and bedding should be destroyed to prevent spread of the disease-causing organisms. Even in normal births, placentas should be removed.

While you’re more likely to get e. coli and salmonella from eating raw foods, you can also get infected by having direct contact with infected animals or their feces. E. coli infections sometimes occur at petting farms or fairs. This is why hand washing stations are now standard at these places. Sheep/goats don’t seem to be significant reservoirs for infections with giardia and cryptosporidium.

Caseous lymphadenitis (CL) causes abscesses in sheep/goats. Direct contact with the pus can cause painful skin wounds in people. Johne’s disease is currently not classified as a zoonotic disease, but there is increasing evidence that it may be associated with Crohn’s disease. While rare in sheep/goats, rabies can be transmitted from any mammal to another.

Most zoonotic diseases can be prevented with common sense, starting with good sanitation and personal hygiene. Gloves, coveralls, and boots should be worn when you are working with livestock. You should always wash your hands thoroughly after contact with livestock and their feces or fluids. Equipment and facilties should be disinfected to prevent the spread of diseases. Be sure to cook meat sufficiently and pasteurize milk.

People with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable to the effects of zoonotic diseases.


Additional resources
Major zoonotic diseases of sheep and meat goats - FAZD Center
Q Fever - Colorado State University
Club lamb fungus (ringworm)
Strategies for abortion management in sheep and goats - VetFolio