Z for Zoonoses

Welcome to the final instalment of this A-to-Z Farm Dictionary Advent Calendar! I must admit, I didn’t think I’d make it this far.

Thank you so much for following along this month, I’ve really enjoyed writing them and have learnt loads about all different topics that I may not have looked into further otherwise! If you’ve missed any, or you want to refer back to them, you can find them all under the Blogmas 2021 tag.

You might have noticed we’re technically finishing a day early… I had to admit defeat when it came to X or Y!

So, we’re jumping from W to Z.

I had a few options for Z, which was surprising! But one won out, mainly thanks to its strange name and sometimes comical but also very serious meaning.

Zoonoses – Diseases which can be transmitted between animals and humans. Known as a Zoonotic Disease.

In livestock, there are countless diseases they can develop, from the simple and relatively harmless, to the life-threatening ones, and everything in between. Farmers and their families are on the frontlines of these illnesses, doing all they can to nurse their stock back to health, sometimes even bringing the particularly frail patients into the warmth of the house for some extra TLC.

But there’s a danger when working with farm animals, and it’s not just being hurt by them due to their size and strength, but also catching the very diseases you’re trying to treat.

My first run-in with a zoonotic disease was as a young child.

It was calving time, and we were having a bit of a rough one. Our calves were being struck down with a disease called Cryptosporidiosis, known as Crypto, an illness that causes excessive diarrhoea (scours) in young calves. And how did we find out crypto was zoonotic? I caught it, of course!

I was too young to remember much, but I was reminded of it for years to come… There’s nothing that drills the ‘wash your hands after being with the calves’ message home to a child than telling them they’ll get explosive diarrhoea otherwise!

Luckily though, I recovered fine, my immune system was obviously a lot better at doing its job back then!

Crypto isn’t the only nasty to be caught from scouring calves though. Good hygiene at calving and lambing time protects more than just the animals; campylobacter, salmonella, e-coli and rotavirus are all fairly common issues that can make humans just as ill, if not more so, as the animals they’re treating!

There are other extremely serious zoonotic diseases we always have to be aware of as well.

Sheep can carry diseases that pose a risk for pregnant people and their unborn child. To the point where pregnant farmers have to stay away from their own sheep at lambing time, and even avoid contact with any clothing others have worn around birthing fluids and newborn animals!

But there’s also some that are just plain annoying to catch, and tend to surprise doctors a bit. Like relatively harmless but sore and itchy skin diseases like Orf (a pox virus in sheep) often caught at lambing time, and Ringworm (a fungal infection causing ring-shaped rashes) usually caught from cattle but also from fence posts and other structures infected animals have itched on. (Ringworm is another I can add to my list…)

It must be eye-opening to be a GP in a rural village, often being faced with diseases a vet would be more qualified to advise on! Not to mention the weird and wonderful injuries we face them with…

I don’t think our local A&E will ever forget the time my mum got accidentally-vaccinated with the sheep’s Bluetongue Virus vaccine (not a zoonotic disease although, if it ever becomes one, at least she’s protected!). She was fine by the way, just (jokingly) told to look out for any urges to begin baa-ing…

So, that bring us to the end of this series, and what’s probably going to be the final blog post of 2021. Thank you for your support this year. I hope you all have a wonderful festive season!

See you in 2022!

2 thoughts on “Z for Zoonoses

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