If you work or live around farm animals, you should listen to this podcast episode! This episode gives surface level info on zoonotic diseases – what they are, the most common ones found in the US, how you can get them, how you can prevent getting them, and more! We also point out some important information for expecting mothers, or women who may become pregnant, and work around animals!
Check out AgriSafe’s free resources on zoonotic diseases:
- Zoonotic Disease in Agriculture (PDF, click “view” to download)- This guide aims to increase awareness of what zoonotic diseases are and how they are spread.
- Reproductive Health Exposures for Women in Agriculture (PDF, click “view” to download) – A guide designed to help women protect their reproductive health when working in agriculture. Spanish version: Riesgos de la salud reproductiva femenina en la agricultura.
- Zoonotic Disease and Pregnancy: A Brief Overview (2-min YouTube video) – Ag work can be hazardous, particularly to women who are pregnant or want to be. Learn about some ways to keep yourself safe.
Don’t forget to wear the proper PPE when working with animals! If you aren’t sure what PPE to choose, check these resource guides out:
- AgriSafe’s Agricultural Respirator Selection Guide (PDF, click “view” to download) – A guide on selecting the right respirator for different jobs on your farm or ranch. Spanish version: Guía Para La Selección De Respirador Agrícola
- AgriSafe’s Head to Toe Protection for Females Working with Swine (PDF, click “view” to download).
- AgriSafe’s Head to Toe Protections for Males Working with Swine (PDF, click “view” to download).
- University of Michigan’s Animal Handler PPE Guide (PDF) – A quick and easy overview of what PPE to wear when working with different animals, starts on page 3.
- NIOSH’s Guidelines for PPE in Animal Facilities (PDF) – 23 pages, comprehensive guide.
For more information, visit the CDC’s page on Zoonotic Diseases in Rural America.
Sign up for the AgriSafe newsletter: https://www.agrisafe.org/newsletter/
View upcoming webinars: https://www.agrisafe.org/events/
Co-directed and hosted by AgriSafe intern, Kobe Williams (MPH Candidate 2024)
Co-directed by Laura Siegel
Special Guest: Knesha Rose-Davison
So hi, everyone, and welcome to this month's bonus edition of Talking Total Farmer Health.Knesha:
I'm Knesha Rose-Davison, and you might remember me from our last bonus episode, Women for the Land. Now, as a bit of a role reversal, I will be the guest speaker and I'm going to be interviewed by one of our student interns, Kobe Williams. Kobe, thanks for joining us. Would you please introduce yourself?Kobe:
Hi Knesha. Thank you for the opportunity. My name is Kobe Williams and I'll be the guest host today. I'm a public health graduate student at the LSU Health Science Center in New Orleans. I'm at AgriSafe, my applied practicum is focused on infectious disease prevention for workers in the agricultural industry. So, for today's topic, we are going to overview zoonotic diseases and we're going to pay special attention to the risks they present for expecting mothers. If you work near or around animals, you should listen to this episode. Now, before we dive in, Knesha, would you please give a quick refresher on your background for the audience?Knesha:
Sure. I've been with AgriSafe for about seven years and I currently serve as a Public Health and Equity Director. I've recently become certified in public health in April of 2023, and I've been offering worker safety training for women, youth, farmers, and now foresters during my entire tenure here at AgriSafe.Kobe:
Thanks, Knesha. Well, let's begin with the basics. So, what are zoonotic diseases and why are they important to learn about?Knesha:
So zoonotic diseases, also known as zoonoses, and it's spelled Z-O-O-N-O-S-E-S. They are caused by germs that spread between animals and people. Harmful germs like viruses, bacteria, parasites and even fungi cause zoonotic diseases. These germs can cause many illnesses in people and animals, ranging from anything from mild sickness to serious illness and even death. I would say one interesting fact as I've studied this topic. Scientists estimate that more than six out of every ten known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and three out of four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals. So about 75% of new emerging diseases are zoonotic in nature, and there are over 200 known types of zoonoses throughout the world.Kobe:
All right. So what are the most common zoonotic diseases?Knesha:
Yes. So as I mentioned, there are over 200 different types, but some of the most common zoonotic diseases of national concern in the United States include zoonotic influenza, so think about your swine and avian flu, West Nile virus, Brucellosis, and Lyme disease. One of the more recent zoonoses is COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2, which is a zoonotic virus which caused the COVID-19 pandemic. Zoonotic diseases, which may impact workers in agriculture, especially those who work closely with animals, include Brucellosis, Chlamydiosis, Leptospirosis, Q Fever and Toxoplasmosis. All of those I just mentioned are transmitted through bacteria except for Toxoplasmosis, which is parasitic in nature.Kobe:
Okay. Which agricultural workers have the highest risk for exposure to these zoonotic diseases?Knesha:
So I'd like to say all those zoonotic diseases are of concern for all Americans. They are of particular concern for farmworkers, especially those working with livestock. And agricultural workers, they are at an increase of exposure to zoonotic disease. So that would also include your farmers, your ranchers, your slaughterhouse workers, your veterinarians and animal caretakers and even dairy farmers. I would also say women can be at increased risk because they are often the animal caretakers and animal husbandry experts. So, they're helping in ranch operations with calving of cows, kitting of female goats or dholes, lambing of ewes or female sheep. And then I would just say lastly, people in rural areas are often in close proximity to animals, including livestock, pets or even wildlife. So anyone working or in contact with animals could be at risk.Kobe:
Right. In reference to women which agricultural exposures present risks for pregnant women regarding their reproductive health?
So that's a great question. The ones that I focus on in particular for pregnant women, would be Brucellosis, which can be spread through contact with goat or sheep, pig, cattle, or even dogs. So pregnant women should be particularly careful during a birthing event for animals due to exposure of infected body fluids and tissues. So things like the placenta, coming in contact, that could pose a risk because if the animal is sick, those tissues or fluids could spread to the woman and make her sick if she's pregnant or even impact her fetus. With sheep or goats, Chlamydiosis exposure is most likely to occur during ingestion. So let's say if you're having contact with an animal and you have unwashed hands, if the animal is sick, something could aerosolize. So contaminated dust, you know, dust or the ground can be impacted with infected tissue, you could kick that up and actually breathe that in and become sick. Direct contact with mucous membranes. So, again, contaminated hands, you're doing stuff, you're touching your face. One of the things is keep your hands clean, keep your hands away from your face. And then with Leptospirosis, the carrier could be dogs, rodents, cattle, horses, and even pigs. And transmission can commonly occur between urine or blood from an infected animal. And it could come from a little scrape on your skin. If some of that infected fluid gets into that cut, you could actually become sick. So depending on the host, depending on the the type of disease, the carrier is different and the risk is going to look different.Kobe:
Wow, it sounds like there a lot of different factors to take into consideration when working around animals. Well, now that we know some risks and exposures, are there any best strategies that we can employ to prevent zoonotic diseases? Especially for pregnant women?Knesha:
I would say prevention strategies, strategies for pregnant women and other exposed workers include if you're handling animals and animal tissues, even think about hunters, for example, you should protect yourself by wearing rubber gloves, goggles, gowns or aprons that don't take on fluids. So, like, if you're dealing with urine and blood, you want something rubber that doesn't absorb that and get that in contact with your clothing. You want to wear proper eye protection to protect your eyes because, again, splashing mucous membranes, things can get in your eye ducts and you could get sick that way. You want to avoid bare skin contact with fluid or other organs from the animal.Knesha:
And don’t forget about your footwear! Oftentimes, our farmers may be in leather boots that absorb contaminants just like our skin. It’s important that while doing any task, where you come in contact with bodily fluids such as urine, blood, or feces, it’s important that you have on rubber or nitrile boots, which protect your feet and can be easily rinsed and cleansed after you come in contact with harmful germs.Knesha:
And as I mentioned earlier, wash your hands. We learned in Covid the importance of handwashing and how that can reduce the exposure of germs. So wash your hands as soon as possible with soap and warm water for at least 20s or more and dry hands with a clean cloth. So the happy birthday song or whatever ways to kind of count that out. You cannot underestimate the power of handwashing. And then you want to clean all tools and reusable gloves with a disinfectant like diluted bleach. And you want to follow the safety instructions, obviously, on any cleaning products that you use.Knesha:
And then I would say in particular for pregnant women; if you can reassign exposure of working with an animal, especially when it comes into contact with bodily fluids and things of that nature, if you can substitute that to another member of the farm operation, that would be optimal because you just do not know what you could be coming in exposure with, especially if an animal is aborting and the animal is sick. That would just put you at increased risk. So we know that operations aren't large, but if that's possible, to substitute your way out of that situation could be best.Kobe:
Are there any treatments or vaccines available?Knesha:
Yes, there are treatments with things like rabies, for example. There's a vaccine that can be taken. And you vaccinate the animal and that protects everyone else. For humans, it depends on the type of bacterial infection. But most are treated through antibiotics with things like Brucellosis, depending on the timing of treatment and the severity of of illness, recovery could take a few weeks up to a few months. It's just very important to if you're experiencing signs and symptoms, which a lot of the bacterial zoonotic diseases, it's like flu like symptoms. So you have the stuffiness, you may have the body aches, you may have the fever, certain diarrhea, and things like that. But you want to communicate with your healthcare provider the type of work you do. With Leptospirosis. It's treated with antibiotics as well. And if you're given it earlier in the course of the disease, it can naturally help clear that up sooner. Things like Q Fever. Most people who are sick will recover without an antibiotic. However, certain people are at higher risk. So pregnant women, if you have a condition that causes you to be immunocompromised, you might have to talk to your provider for other treatments. But but for healthy individuals, it usually kind of clears itself up. With Toxoplasmosis, for example, treatment is usually unnecessary in otherwise healthy persons if you're not pregnant. If symptoms occur, they typically go away within a few weeks or months. But again, you want to kind of look out for immunocompromised or pregnant persons because there may be some special things that that need to be considered. And then there are intravenous antibiotics if it's a more advanced course of disease that's happening. So it just depends on the exposure, your health, and how far the disease has progressed to look at treatment options.Kobe:
Do you have any other resources you'd like to share?Knesha:
Yes. I know this was quick, but AgriSafe has several resources related to this topic on our website, which is agrisafe.org and our learning lab which is learning.agrisafe.org. For quick reference, we do have a couple of fact sheets. One is zoonotic disease and agriculture. So it talks about the type of zoonotic disease. Is it bacterial, viral, parasitic? Who are the common carriers? What are some of the common symptoms of exposure? And then it talks about treatment. So that's a great fact sheet that you can get online at our website, a free PDF download for other items geared towards women's health and reproductive risk. I would recommend reproductive health exposures for women in ag. It kind of talks about a little bit zoonotic disease and some other exposures that women may not be aware of because they're just constantly doing the work that needs to get done. There are also complementing webinars that are recorded and can be viewed on demand. One is Zoonotic Disease and Pregnancy, which a lot of this material was pulled from a deeper dive, which is a great webinar. And then Reproductive Health Exposures for Women in Ag. I highly recommend both of those. If you would like to visit our website and request a training or find training dates on these topics, just visit agrisafe.org and then we will list all of these resources for you and more can be found in the show notes.Knesha:
All right. That wraps up today's episode. I'm so glad that you joined us. Many, many thanks to Kobe Williams for being our guest host and helping us to produce this episode. Remember to check the show notes for some helpful resources and thank you all for listening to Talking Total Health. Till next time. See you later.