THE Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland have issued advice to pregnant women during the lambing season.
The advice says that pregnant women who come into close contact with sheep during lambing may risk their own health, and that of their unborn child, from infections that can occur in some ewes.
Dr Michael McBride, Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland, said: “Although reports of these infections are extremely rare, it is important that pregnant women are aware of the potential risks and take appropriate precautions.
“It is also important to note that these risks are not only confined to the spring (when the majority of lambs are born), nor are the risks only 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 to lamb ewes, or to provide assistance with a cow that is calving or a nanny goat that is kidding;
- avoid contact with aborted or new-born lambs, calves or kids or with the afterbirth, birthing fluids or materials (e.g. bedding) contaminated by such birth products;
- avoid handling (including washing) clothing, boots or any materials that may 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.
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 their employees, members of their family, farm contractors and other workers. They also have similar responsibilities to members of the public who visit farms.