Advice to pregnant women during the lambing season

03 January 2013, Public Health Wales

With the lambing season approaching, Public Health Wales is reminding pregnant women to avoid close contact with animals that are giving birth.
 

Women who are, or who may be, pregnant and come into close contact with sheep during lambing may risk their own health and that of their unborn child.
 
The risk comes from infections that can occur in some ewes including chlamydiosis, toxoplasmosis, listeriosis and Q fever.
   
Although the number of reports of these infections and human miscarriages resulting from contact with sheep are extremely small, it is important that pregnant women are aware of the potential risks.
 
It is also important to note that these risks are not just confined to the spring when the majority of lambs are born and that the risks are not just associated with sheep.  Cows and goats that have recently given birth can also carry similar infections.
  
To avoid the possible risk of infection, pregnant women are advised that they should:
 
  • Not help when ewes, cows or goats are giving birth
  • Avoid contact with aborted or newborn lambs, calves and kids
  • Avoid contact with the afterbirth and birthing fluids and with materials (e.g. bedding) contaminated by such birth products
  • Avoid handling (including washing) clothing, boots, or any materials that have come into contact with animals that have recently given birth, their young or afterbirths
  • Ensure partners attending lambing ewes or other animals giving birth take appropriate health and hygiene precautions, including the wearing of personal protective equipment and adequate washing to remove any potential contamination.
 
In addition it is advisable to:
 
  • Scrub hands, and keep fingernails short and clean
  • Wash clothes used in birthing separately, pregnant women should not handle dirty clothes worn during the lambing season
  • Sleep in separate bedrooms if it is not possible to clean up thoroughly after night-time lambing.
  • Should not handle any vaccines, and should avoid contact with recently vaccinated sheep.
 
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 have a responsibility to minimise the risks to pregnant women, including members of their family, the public and professional staff visiting farms. 
  
Further information on the infection risks to pregnant women from cattle, sheep and goats that have given birth is available on the Defra website at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2012/12/31/lambing-season/ and the HPA website at: http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/Lambing/