17/02 Pregnant women should avoid close contact with sheep during the lambing season, the Government advised today.
The Department of Health, Defra and the Health and Safety Executive have advised that pregnant women who come into close contact with sheep during lambing may risk their own health, and that of their unborn child, from infections that can occur in some ewes.
Although these infections are uncommon, and the number of human pregnancies affected by contact with sheep is extremely small, it is important that pregnant women are aware of the potential risks and take appropriate precautions.
To avoid the possible risk of infection, pregnant women are advised that they should:
- not help to lamb or milk ewes;
- avoid contact with aborted or new-born lambs or with the afterbirth, birthing fluids or materials (e.g. bedding) contaminated by such birth products;
- avoid handling (including washing) clothing, boots or any materials that may have come into contact with ewes, lambs or afterbirth;
- ensure partners attending lambing ewes take appropriate health and hygiene precautions, including the wearing of personal protective equipment and adequate washing to remove any potential contamination.
Pregnant women should seek medical advice if they experience fever or influenza-like symptoms, or if concerned that they could have acquired infection from a farm environment.
Farmers have a responsibility to minimise the risks to pregnant women, including members of their family, the public and professional staff visiting farms.
Notes to Editors
1. Farmers should consult their veterinary surgeon about suitable vaccination programmes and any other disease control measures in sheep.
2. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 require employers and the self employed to assess risks to health from harmful substances, including micro-organisms, and to take steps to prevent or control those risks, and The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers and the self employed to further assess any risks which affect pregnant women.
3. Further advice is available from HSE Infoline on 0845 3450055. They may put you through to an HSE Occupational Health Professional in your region if necessary.
4. The Department of Health advisory leaflet ‘While you are pregnant: How to avoid infection from food and from contact with animals’, is available, free of charge to general medical practitioners and midwives from: firstname.lastname@example.org or the telephone orderline 0300 123 1002.
5. Further information on zoonoses and appropriate control measures can be found in HSE Agriculture Information sheet 2 - Common Zoonoses in Agriculture. This is available from the HSE website at www.HSE.gov.uk/pubns/ais2.pdf. Also, the 1997 publication Infection risks to new and expectant mothers in the workplace - a guide for employers, by the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ref: ISBN 0-7176-1360-7). Copies are available, price £10.50, from HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 2WA, or by calling 01787 881165, or via their website at http://www.hsebooks.co.uk.
6. Further information on the infection risks to pregnant women during the lambing season is available on the Defra website at http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/index.htm and the HPA website at
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