Farm animals including cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and goats, can pass diseases to people. As you know, farm animals are not like house pets and do not have places to rest or eat that are away from where they pass manure. Therefore, you should thoroughly wash your hands with running water and soap after contact with them or after touching things such as fences, buckets, and straw bedding that have been in contact with farm animals. Adults should carefully watch children who are visiting farms and help them wash their hands well.
Different types of farm animals can carry different diseases. For example, cows and calves can carry the bacterium Escherichia coli O157:H7, often called E. coli (ee COH-lie). This germ can cause bloody diarrhea in people. In addition children can develop kidney failure due to E. coli O157:H7 infection. Pigs can carry the bacterium Yersinia enterocolitica (yer-SIN-ee-ah en-TER-o-koh-LIH-tee-kuh), which causes the disease yersiniosis (yer-SIN-ee-OH-sis). Chickens can carry bacteria such as Salmonella, (sal –mon – Nell – ah) which causes the disease salmonellosis. Many of these germs are in farm animal manure.
Some people are more likely than others to get diseases from farm animals. A person's age and health status may affect his or her immune system, increasing the chances of getting sick. People who are more likely to get diseases from farm animals include infants, children younger than 5 years old, organ transplant patients, people with HIV/AIDS, and people who are being treated for cancer. Special advice is available for people who are at greater risk than others of getting diseases from animals. Click here for information on health risks associated with chicks. Also, take a look at the protection guidelines for avian influenza.
Many organizations support the health benefits of animals. These groups provide information on how pets can help people be healthy.
Learn more about selected farm animals-related diseases below.
Farm Animals-Related Diseases
- Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, mad cow disease): An infectious disease associated with cattle.
- Brucella Infection (brucellosis): A bacterial disease associated with farm animals.
- Campylobacter Infection (campylobacteriosis): A bacterial disease associated with cats, dogs, and farm animals.
- Cryptosporidium Infection (cryptosporidiosis): A parasitic disease associated with cats, dogs, and farm animals.
- Escherichia coli O157:H7: A bacterial disease associated with cattle (cows).
- Q Fever (Coxiella burnetii): A bacterial disease occasionally associated with cattle.
- Rabies: A viral disease associated with various animals, including farm animals.
- Ringworm: A fungal disease associated with various animals, including farm animals.
- Salmonella Infection (Salmonellosis): A bacterial disease associated with various animals, including farm animals.
- Yersinia enterocolitica (yersiniosis): A bacterial disease associated with pigs.
Cattle manure may contain germs that can make people, especially young children, very sick. To best protect yourself from getting sick, wash your hands with soap and running water after visiting a farm and after having contact with farm animals.
Keeping backyard poultry (chicks, chickens, ducks, ducklings, geese, and turkeys) is becoming more and more popular. People enjoy raising baby chicks and having fresh eggs from their established flocks. Though keeping chickens can be fun and educational, poultry owners should be aware that chickens and other birds used for meat and eggs can carry germs that make people sick.
Although horses can pass diseases to people, you are not likely to get sick from touching or owning them. However, when you do common chores with horses, such as cleaning stalls, grooming them, and picking out their feet, you are probably touching manure without knowing it. To protect yourself from getting sick, you should thoroughly wash your hands with running water and soap after contact with horses or their manure.
CDC Reports and Recommendations
- Outbreaks of Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections among children associated with farm visits, Pennsylvania and Washington, 2000. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, April 20, 2001;50(15):297-7.
- Salmonellosis associated with chicks and ducklings --- Michigan and Missouri, Spring 1999. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, April 14, 2000;49(14):297-9.
- Kassenborg HD, Hedberg CW, Hoekstra M, Evans MC, Chin AE, Marcus R, Vugia DJ, Smith K, Ahuja SD, Slutsker L, and Griffin PM. Farm Visits and Undercooked Hamburgers as Marjor Risk Factors for Sporadic Escherichia coli O157:H7 Infection: Data from a Case-Control Study in 5 FoodNet Sites. Clinical Infectious Diseases Supplement 2004:38 pg 271-278.
- Page last reviewed: April 30, 2014
- Page last updated: April 30, 2014
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