Don''t Spread Disease Hand-washing and common sense protect family and employees

September 20, 2009 07:00 PM

Wear a mask to avoid inhaling contaminated dust particles when
scraping an open lot.
If you've spent much of your life on a dairy, you probably know something about preventing the spread of animal-to-human diseases. You've also likely acquired some type of immunity to these zoonotic diseases.

But there's a good chance that many of your employees don't understand the risk of disease transmission or how to prevent it. And employees without previous livestock exposure may not have immunity to zoonotic disease, leaving them more at risk.

Salmonella is perhaps the most common and dangerous of the zoonotic diseases that can spread from animals to humans, says Larry Collar, producer quality assurance manager with California Dairies, Inc.

"Studies indicate Salmonella bacteria is found nearly everywhere in cattle environments,” Collar says. "It can survive for long periods in cattle hosts that display no outward symptoms of carrying bacteria.”

Other zoonotic diseases that are cause for concern are brucellosis, cryptosporidiosis, listeriosis and tuberculosis.

"It's important to remember that zoonotic disease transmission can occur without animals showing obvious signs of illness,” says Danelle Bickett-Weddle, associate director of the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University.

To protect your family and employees and reduce the disease transmission risk:
  • Make hand-washing with soap and hot water a compulsive habit. "By washing your hands after handling animals, the risk of exposure decreases because you remove the infectious agent,” Bickett-Weddle says.
  • Wear personal protective equipment such as disposable gloves, booties and coveralls when handling known sick cows. If assisting with calving, wear waterproof outerwear and rectal sleeves to limit exposure.
  • Control the amount of dust generated in animal housing areas. Large amounts of dust can damage the protective cells in the respiratory tract and let in contaminated particles that can cause disease. Wear a mask to avoid inhaling contaminated particles when scraping a corral lot, assisting with calving or using a power washer to clean animal areas.
  • Don't store medication for treating sick animals and employee food or drink in the same refrigerator.
  • Don't take home soiled clothing that might infect family members. Launder clothing on farm or seal it in a garbage bag and place it into a washing machine at home. Change coveralls once contaminated.
  • Eat only those milk products that are pasteurized. Raw milk can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and cause serious infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). From 1993 to 2006, the CDC received reports of 1,505 illnesses, 185 hospitalizations and two deaths resulting from raw-milk consumption. Because not all foodborne illnesses are reported, the actual numbers are likely greater.
  • Keep an eye on those with compromised immune systems. Changes in health status and the normal aging process can weaken the immune system. In addition, children under age 5, pregnant women, chemotherapy patients and people with chronic
    diseases such as diabetes are more vulnerable to zoonotic diseases.

Bonus content:

Spanish version

More on Zoonotic Diseases:

Iowa State University (information available in Spanish)

Journal of Dairy Science

Zoonotic Disease Newsletter from Virginia Department of Health Division of Environmental Epidemiology

"Transmission Routes of Zoonotic Diseases” graphic (also available in Spanish)

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