Zoonotic diseases are contagious diseases that spread between animals and humans. It is estimated that approximately 75% of recently emerging infectious diseases affecting humans are diseases of animal origin; approximately 60% of all human pathogens are zoonotic. Humans can contract zoonotic diseases through direct contact with infected animals, and also by consumption of contaminated food or water, inhalation, arthropod vectors (such as flies, ticks, and mosquitoes) and pests.
Below is a condensed list of sheep and goat diseases that can be transmitted to humans. The diseases are grouped in alphabetical order within groups of common routes for human infection. Many of these diseases, whether in animals or humans, are reportable to State and Federal Authorities. Contact your State Veterinarian or your State/Local Health Department for information about State disease reporting requirements in animals and humans, respectively.
Rabies is a severe, viral disease that can affect all mammals, including sheep and goats. People most often get rabies from the bite (direct contact) of an infected animal, but can also be exposed to the virus by entry of saliva, brain or spinal cord fluid of an infected animal into cuts or breaks in the skin or mucous membranes. Early human symptoms include fever, headache, confusion and abnormal behavior (neurological signs). Once signs begin, recovery is very rare. If you are bitten by an animal, immediately contact local animal control so the animal may be tested or quarantined, and contact your physician immediately to determine whether post-exposure treatment is indicated.
Listeria monocytogenes causes listeriosis, a bacterial disease in ruminants and humans. Most infections in people occur by eating raw meat or unpasteurized dairy products (oral), but there are additional ways to be infected. Animals can shed L. monocytogenes in the feces, milk and uterine discharges. Pregnant women or immunocompromised people should take special care to avoid unpasteurized dairy products. Unlike other bacteria, L. monocytogenes can grow in cold temperature, including in the refrigerator. A skin infection form of the disease can occur in people who handle sick animals.
Transmission can also occur by the ingestion of unpasteurized milk.
People most commonly get salmonellosis from eating (oral) improperly cooked food, such as meat, eggs or unpasteurized milk/dairy products. People can also get salmonellosis by direct contact with feces/diarrhea from infected animals. People with salmonellosis may have diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramping.
Sarcocystosis is a disease caused by a group of parasitic protozoan species, Sarcocytis. People can get sarcocystosis by ingesting (oral) the protozoan, most commonly through undercooked meat products. Symptoms in people with muscular disease caused by sarcocystosis may include muscle tenderness or painful swelling, muscle weakness, headache, cough, transient itchy rashes. Symptoms in people with intestinal disease caused by sarcocystosis may include fever, chills, sweating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting.
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a microscopic protozoal parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. People can get toxoplasmosis by ingesting (oral) Toxoplasma gondii from undercooked meat. Infections in people cause flu-like signs (fever, body aches, headache, sore throat). Toxoplasmosis can cause abortion or birth defects in pregnant women. Pregnant women or immunocompromised people should avoid contact with pregnant or aborting animals.
Q fever results from infection by the bacterium, Coxiella burnetii, which can infect people who inhale aerosolized organisms, or by additional routes. Most human infections are associated with cattle, sheep and goats, and often occur when the animal gives birth. Symptoms of Q fever include fever, chills, night sweats, headache, fatigue and chest pains. Q fever can cause abortion or premature delivery in pregnant women, so pregnant women should avoid contact with pregnant or aborting animals.
Mosquitoes transmitRift Valley fever, a viral disease, to cattle, sheep, and goats. In addition to mosquitoes (vector), the virus may also be spread through aerosol from infected animal tissues or fluids (blood, urine, fetal fluids). People often become infected during slaughter or when assisting the delivery of newborn animals. Symptoms may include dizziness, weakness, fever, stiffness of the neck, headache, and sensitivity to light. This is a foreign animal disease State and Federal veterinarians should be notified immediately of any suspected cases of Rift Valley Fever.
**This symbol indicates that the disease is foreign to the United States (FAD: Foreign Animal Disease), so State and Federal animal health authorities must be notified immediately of any suspected cases.
**Signs and symptoms will vary depending on the particular disease involved, and the individual affected. Only your doctor can provide an adequate diagnosis of a zoonotic disease, based on the signs or symptoms and laboratory results. Contact your physician immediately if you are exhibiting signs of illness after being in contact with infected or potentially infected animals.
Reduce your risk of contracting a zoonotic disease by washing your hands thoroughly and frequently. Also, wear protective equipment such as gloves, coveralls and boots when working with sheep and goats, and other susceptible species. Practice good sanitation and personal hygiene. Anyone who has contact with animals has some risk of getting zoonotic diseases, but some groups of people may be more at risk than others, such as pregnant women, children, the elderly, people with a genetic predisposition and immunocompromised individuals.