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Goat Diseases and Human Health

  • Helen Simmonds, "Rowan Park", NSW.

Diseases that can be transmitted to humans from animals are called "zoonoses". Most of these can be prevented by good hygiene. Diseases may be caused by not taking sufficient care in the handling of carcases at autopsy, or of handling placenta and foetuses.

Probably the most common zoonoses in this country, (fortunately very rare), is Q fever. Most animal species, including goats, can be infected but they usually show no signs of the disease and are regarded as healthy. There are cases, however, where heavy infection has caused abortion in sheep and goats. There is also evidence that cattle may pass on the infection to humans in the placental fluids. Q fever is causes by a rickettsia-like organism, Coxiella burnetti, which is shed in milk, placenta and foetal fluids, as well as in the faeces and urine of infected animals. Fleece, bedding and manure can be contaminated.

It has an unusually high resistance to drying, and an ability to remain viable for prolonged periods. The most common form of infection for humans is the inhalation of dust contaminated with the organism. In humans the incubation period is from 14 to 60 days. About three weeks is usual.

Q fever in humans can result in an acute or chronic condition. It is characterised by an acute feverish condition, (often mis-diagnosed as "flue"), malaise, headache, and less commonly pneumonia and hepatitis. The fever seldom exceeds 41 degrees C. The illness may last from two to four weeks, and most patients gain immunity to further infection. In some unfortunate cases subsequent attacks may recur about every six months. People with low auto-immune levels need to take extra care.

The most common incidence is among abattoir workers, workers in the by-products areas, or people handling infected tissue. Vaccination in humans is advisable to reduce infection in high risk groups.

There are several other diseases that it is possible to contract from goats, or other animals, such as ringworm, and hydatids. Drug residues in milk may cause problems. Meat may have an off-flavour and may cause problems if with-holding periods of chemicals have not been observed.

Many conditions affecting humans are caused by faulty work practices, faulty hygiene, or faulty reading of labelling on containers. It is surprising how many people are affected by the pour-on or spot-on, lice control chemicals. It can be easily absorbed through the skin, sometimes giving horrifying results. If the use-by date is exceeded, the chemical may be far more toxic than normal.

How many times have we had a "needle stick injury". Most times it just hurts and bleeds, but what if things went further? Most people take "reasonable" care when doing a quick examination, or caesarian, on a deceased animal, or incising an abscess. Personal hygiene and some form of protective clothing are a must. THINK FIRST.

© 2000 A.C.G.A.