29 August 1997

HIGHER HYGIENE STANDARDS FOR HUMANS VITAL

Diseases can be transmitted between farm animals and humans, and mean those who work with stock should take precautions to reduce the risk of infection. Peter Grimshaw reports

FOR farmers the aim for disease is to eliminate or at least reduce the level of infection within the farm herd or flock. This is good business because it improves productivity, stock are more comfortable, and it is also good for customers because it reduces risk at source.

Health and Safety Executive advice is to ensure that everyone working with livestock follows the principles of good occupational hygiene. This may mean dropping some traditional practices, such as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation of new-born animals.

Everyday habits may need to be radically changed. One of the most frequent routes for infection is hand to mouth. Avoid touching the face, nose, eyes and mouth when working with stock. Wash hands and exposed skin before eating, drinking or smoking.

It may also mean adopting personal protective equipment, although the HSE policy of giving precedence to avoiding risk rather than providing equipment that minimises exposure, applies. Where protective equipment is used, it must be kept clean, and washed regularly.

Inhalation risks

And according to Mac Johnston, senior lecturer in public health at the Royal Vet College, there are risks from inhalation of aerosols, and splashes on the conjunctiva of the eyes. "How many veterinary surgeons and farmers wear face protection equipment when working in risk situations?"

Producers also need to be much more fussy about avoiding and treating skin puncture wounds, however small. Some organisms are much more likely to enter the body through open wounds, so again the principle of avoiding the wound comes first.

Cuts or grazes should be covered with a waterproof dressing before work. When a wound occurs at work, wash it immediately in running water and cover with a waterproof dressing.

Where work involves hypodermic needles or other sharp medical equipment, take extra care, and dispose of the used needles in a strong sharps box, not in the normal refuse bin. If you do get an accidental needle stab and subsequently get heat and pain accompanied by red streaks up the limb affected, this should be treated as an emergency, insists Dr Johns-ton.

Follow your vets practice and use a waterproof apron and obstetric gauntlets for calvings and lambings and plastic or latex gloves for oral or rectal examinations. Also wear them whenever helping animals to give birth or handling placenta.

Major concern

Infectious agents causing abortion in cattle and sheep are a major concern, especially to pregnant women. The risks tend to be greater with sheep, simply because most farms have many more sheep than cattle.

Organisms concerned include chlamydia and toxoplasma, plus occasionally salmonella and campylobacter.

"Pregnant women have no place in and around lambing pens," says Dr Johnston, who says the risk extends to the clothing of people who have been lambing sheep. "If your wife is pregnant, put your overalls in the washing machine yourself."

Where ticks are likely to be a concern, it is inadvisable to work with bare legs. If wellington boots are not worn, trouser legs should be tied before going into undergrowth, he advises.

Dr Johnston emphasises that the vast majority of zoonoses produce flu-like symptoms, rather than the more dramatic gastric upsets that have received recent publicity. Such symptoms should always be treated with caution when they occur in those who have recently been handling farm animals. And it is well to recognise that many of the zoonoses are particularly serious when contracted by the very young and the very old.

He stresses that particular care must be taken with children on farms and with visitors such as school parties. "Make certain they wash their hands thoroughly after visiting animal units, and especially before eating," he advises. &#42

Follow your vets example, and wear a waterproof apron and obstetric gloves for calving and lambing – and keep protective clothing clean.

Farm visitors

lConsider how much contact visitors may have and assess the risk of disease transmission with each group of livestock.

&#8226 Consider vaccination programmes that will reduce the incidence of disease in the animals, minimising the risk to visitors.

&#8226 Put up signs – especially in eating and drinking areas – telling them to wash before eating, drinking and smoking.

&#8226 Adequate washing facilities, with clean water, soap and towels, should be provided.

&#8226 Ensure parents and teachers discourage children from putting dirty hands or fingers into their mouths.

&#8226 Discourage visitors from tasting animal feed such as silage and concentrates.

&#8226 Advise visitors to cover cuts and abrasions with a waterproof dressing.

&#8226 It is not necessary to stop visitors from bottle feeding lambs and calves, but if they do, they should be sure to wash afterwards.

lDesignated eating areas should be provided, separate from areas occupied by stock.

Source: Health and Safety Executive.

Disease protection

&#8226 Micro-organisms that could cause disease in the workplace are subject to COSH&#42 regulations like any other health risk.

&#8226 Assess the risk.

&#8226 Avoid the risk.

&#8226 Introduce and maintain control measures.

&#8226 Inform, instruct and train employees about risks and precautions.

&#8226 If disease or infection is suspected, medical advice should be sought quickly. It will help your doctor to know if you work in agriculture or have recently come into contact with farm stock.

&#8226 Special attention should be given to the additional risk for children, old people, and pregnant women.

Disease protection

&#8226 Micro-organisms that could cause disease in the workplace are subject to COSH&#42 regulations like any other health risk.

&#8226 Assess the risk.

&#8226 Avoid the risk.

&#8226 Introduce and maintain control measures.

&#8226 Inform, instruct and train employees about risks and precautions.

&#8226 If disease or infection is suspected, medical advice should be sought quickly. It will help your doctor to know if you work in agriculture or have recently come into contact with farm stock.

&#8226 Special attention should be given to the additional risk for children, old people, and pregnant women.