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Advice issued to pregnant women during lambing season

Pregnant women in Wales are being reminded to stay away from animals that are giving or have recently given birth, or that have aborted.  The advice, which also applies to women who may not be sure if they are pregnant, comes during the lambing season in Wales.  The advice is being issued by Public Health Wales due to the risk to pregnancy from infections which can occur in some ewes. 

Pregnant women and those who may be immunocompromised due to a medical condition or chemotherapy, and who come into close contact with sheep during lambing may risk their own health and that of their unborn child, from infections which can occur in some ewes. These include enzootic abortion (EAE), Q fever, Salmonella and Campylobacter infections in addition to other infectious causes of abortion which have zoonotic potential including Toxoplasma and Listeria.  

Dr Robert Smith, Clinical Scientist in Zoonoses, Public Health Wales, said: “Although the number of human pregnancies affected by contact with an infected animal is extremely small, the individual impact can be high. Therefore it is important that pregnant women are aware of the potential risks and take appropriate precautions. These risks are not only associated with sheep, nor confined only to the spring (when the majority of lambs are born).  

“It may not be initially obvious that a ewe is aborting or discharging potentially infectious material or fluids. Cattle and goats that have recently given birth or aborted, often at other times of the year can carry similar infections.” 

To avoid the possible risk of infection, pregnant women should: 

  • Not help ewes to lamb, or to provide assistance with a cow that is calving or a nanny goat that is kidding 
  • Avoid contact with aborted or new-born lambs, calves or kids or with the afterbirth, birthing fluids or materials (eg. bedding or clothing) contaminated by such birth products, vaccines or recently vaccinated sheep 
  • Avoid handling (including washing) clothing, boots or any materials that may have come into contact with animals that have recently given birth, their young or afterbirths. Potentially contaminated clothing will be safe to handle after being washed on a hot cycle 
  • Ensure contacts or partners who have attended lambing ewes or other animals giving birth take appropriate health and hygiene precautions, including the wearing of personal protective equipment and clothing and adequate washing to remove any potential contamination 
  • If it is not possible to clean up thoroughly during the night, then sleep in separate bedrooms 
  • Scrub hands with soap and water (hand gels are not appropriate), and keep finger nails short and clean 
  • 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 and livestock keepers have a responsibility to minimise the risks to pregnant women, including members of their family, the public and professional staff visiting farms. It is advisable that pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals should not be involved in the care or husbandry of heavily pregnant animals   

Aborting Ewes – the Importance of Diagnosis 

If a ewe aborts, farmers are advised to involve their veterinary surgeon in investigation. This may include examination and testing on the aborted foetus and placenta. At their local veterinary investigation centre of the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) to determine the cause.   

Disposal of afterbirths 

In the interests of hygiene, farmers should dispose of all afterbirths promptly and safely in accordance with relevant legislation. 

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