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Lambing advice to pregnant women

Published: 29 Dec 2015 10:00

Advice to avoid close contact with animals giving birth.

Pregnant women should avoid close contact with animals that are giving, or have recently given birth, the Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood has advised.

The Scottish Government, along with other UK health departments, has issued annual advice for a number of years that pregnant women who come into close contact with sheep during lambing or other farm animals that are giving birth may risk their own health, and that of their unborn child, from infections that such animals can carry such as chlamydia, toxoplasma, listeria and Q fever.

Dr Calderwood said: "Even though the number of pregnancies affected by contact with infected animals is extremely small, it's very important that pregnant women understand the risks and take appropriate precautions. There are simple steps that can be taken to avoid these risks.

"If pregnant women experience a fever, or flu-like symptoms, and think they might have acquired an infection from a farm-like environment, they must seek immediate medical advice.

"These risks are not confined to the spring, and do not only apply to sheep, but also to cattle and goats that have recently given birth. All can carry similar infections."

To avoid the possible risk of infection, pregnant women should:

  • Not help to lamb or milk 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. Potentially contaminated clothing will be safe to handle after being washed on a hot cycle
  • Ensure contacts or partners who have attended lambing ewes or other animals giving birth take appropriate health and hygiene precautions, including the wearing of personal protective equipment and clothing and adequate washing to remove any potential contamination

Farmers and livestock keepers have a responsibility to minimise the risks to pregnant women, including members of their family, the public and professional staff visiting farms.

Notes to editors

1. Farmers should consult their veterinary surgeon about suitable vaccination programmes and any other disease control measures in sheep, cattle and goats.

2. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 require employers and the self-employed to assess risks to health from harmful substances, including micro-organisms, and to take steps to prevent or control those risks, and The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers and the self-employed to further assess any risks which affect pregnant women.

3. Further information on zoonoses and appropriate control measures can be found on the HSE website (www.HSE.gov.uk). This includes links to information on many zoonoses (including those that can specifically affect pregnant women) at http://www.hse.gov.uk/agriculture/topics/zoonoses.htm and the 1997 publication Infection risks to new and expectant mothers in the workplace - a guide for employers, by the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ref: ISBN 0-7176-1360-7) (http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/infection-mothers.pdf)

4. Further information on the infection risks to pregnant women from cattle, sheep and goats that have given birth is available on the Scottish Government and Public Health England websites at

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/farmingrural/Agriculture/animal-welfare/News/PregLambFAQ/Intro

http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/Lambing/