March is here and it is the start of lambing season; however the Public Health Agency (PHA) is reminding pregnant women about the risk of close contact with sheep during lambing season.
Dr Lorraine Doherty, Assistant Director of Public Health (Health Protection) at the PHA, said: “Pregnant women who come into close contact with sheep during lambing may be risking their own health and that of their unborn child from infections that can be transferred from ewes. It is also important to note that cows and goats which have recently given birth can also carry similar infections.
“The PHA is advising women who are, or think they may be pregnant, to reduce their risk of miscarriage and infection by avoiding close contact with sheep during lambing season, which runs until around April.
“The number of reports of these infections and human miscarriages resulting from contact with sheep is extremely small. However, it is important that pregnant women are aware of the potential risks associated with close contact with sheep during lambing.”
To avoid the possible risk of infection, pregnant women are advised that they should:
- not help to lamb or milk ewes;
- avoid contact with aborted or new-born lambs and with the afterbirth, birthing fluids or materials (e.g. bedding) contaminated by birth fluids;
- avoid handling clothing, boots, etc which have come into contact with ewes or lambs.
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.
Pregnant women should seek medical advice if they experience fever or influenza-like symptoms, or if they are concerned that they could have acquired infection from a farm environment.