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The Government has put out a reminder to pregnant women to avoid close contact with sheep or other farm animals that are giving birth, as they present a potential infection risk.
Although the number of human pregnancies affected by contact with an infected animal is extremely small, it is important that pregnant women are aware of the potential risks and take appropriate precautions, said the advisory notice.
These risks are not only associated with sheep, nor confined only to the spring (when the majority of lambs are born). Cattle and goats that have recently given birth can also carry similar infections.
To avoid the possible risk of infection, pregnant women should:
• not help ewes to lamb, 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 (eg 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.
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.
It is the responsibility of farmers and livestock keepers to minimise the risks to pregnant women, including members of their family, the public and professional staff visiting farms.
Further information on the infection risks to pregnant women from cattle, sheep and goats that have given birth is available at www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/934.aspx?CategoryID=54