Some Goat Ailments Are Transmissible To Humans


In my April 2004 column I addressed management issues that are common, but surprising and unexpected for many new producers. This month I will discuss another topic that even many longtime producers may be surprised by, but that everybody who handles goats should be aware of.

It does not seem to be widely known that many goat diseases are transmissible to humans. Such a disease is said to be zoonotic, and there are many such diseases that infect goats. I will discuss below some of the more common and serious zoonotic diseases that goat producers should be aware of, but this is not meant to be a complete list.

When handling goats, especially visibly ill ones, it is always a good idea to take precautions to prevent infecting yourself with whatever the goats might have. However, even animals that appear healthy may be carrying a zoonotic pathogen, so you shouldn't necessarily let your guard down just because the goats appear healthy.

The following are my recommendations for health precautions that producers should take:

1) Pregnant women, those with weak immune systems, and/or those with heart valve problems should be kept away from goats and areas where goats have been.

2) When handling goats, gloves and other protective gear should be worn as appropriate.

3) Any abscesses should be lanced prior to them rupturing on their own, and the exudate should be collected and destroyed off your premises making sure it does not come into contact with soil, humans or animals.

4) All placentas and aborted fetuses should be removed from your premises. Do not handle placentas and/or aborted fetuses without appropriate protective coverings.

5) Always wash your hands after handling the goats.

Taking these precautions will go a long way towards protecting you from the various zoonotic diseases that infect goats. The zoonotic diseases US goat producers should be aware of fall primarily into 4 classifications: bacterial, fungal, rickettsial, and viral diseases.

Bacterial Diseases - as you might guess are caused by bacteria. The list of bacteria that cause disease in both humans and goats is long and varied. In addition to such obvious pathogens such as streptococcus, staphylococcus, etc. that cause wound or other infections in many types of animals, there are a number of other bacteria that cause diseases. Some of those are:

Anthrax - no, terrorists are not the only source of anthrax infection. In some parts of Texas and other areas of the world Bacillus Anthracis spores exist in the soil naturally, and under the right conditions become active and infect livestock including goats. Humans handling goats that are sick or have died from anthrax infection can be infected through the skin or by inhaling or ingesting the bacteria.

Brucellosis - contact with excretions, secretions and/or milk of animals infected with Brucella spp. can lead to infection in humans.

Campylobacter - most species of Campylobacter are reasonably host-specific, but cross-infection is possible. The most common transmission method is by fecal contamination of food.

Corynebacterium Pseudotuberculosis - aka CL can be transmitted to humans, so wear gloves when lancing and draining abscesses.

Leptospira - contact with an infected animal's urine, tissue, or aborted fetus or with contaminated soil or water can lead to infection in humans.

Fungal Diseases - many fungal diseases are found in both humans and goats, but most are rare and not transmitted directly from goats to humans.

Microsporum spp. and Trichophyton spp. - are exceptions that cause ringworm which is commonly transmitted between the two species by direct contact.

Rickettsial Diseases - most of these diseases are transmitted to humans by ticks or mites. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Boutonneuse Fever are a couple of examples. While fairly uncommon in humans they are very serious.

Coxiella Burnetii - causes Q-fever which usually causes no symptoms in goats, although it can cause anorexia and abortions in them, but causes a serious flu-like disease in humans, and in serious cases destroys the infected person's heart valves. Transmission is via aerosols, or handling aborted and newborn animals.

Viral Diseases - most animal viral diseases are rare in humans, but a few are important. The number that are commonly transmitted directly from goats to humans is even smaller.

Parapox Virus - is the cause of orf or sore mouth in goats. This virus can be transmitted to humans by contact exposure.

Producers should be aware that goats can carry a number of different disease causing pathogens, and some of the diseases caused by those pathogens in humans are very serious and even fatal. Even goats that appear healthy may be carriers, and producers should take steps to keep vulnerable people away from their goats and to protect themselves and their workers from infection.

This will be my last new column for a few months. I will be starting construction on my new home by the time this is published, and will be taking the summer off to work on it. I will still be raising and selling goats, in fact we will have just weaned our latest kid crop by the time you read this, so keep me in mind if you are looking for goats. Look for new columns from me in the fall, and feel free to call with your goat management questions or to consult my website in the meantime.

Herd Sires

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This page updated 06/16/04