Prevent Zoonotic Diseases on your Dairy Farm

The current outbreak of Salmonella associated with dairy farms reminds us that the risk of contracting a zoonotic disease from dairy cattle should not be overlooked; producers must take preventative steps to protect themselves and their employees.

A current outbreak of multi-drug resistant Salmonella has been associated with dairy calves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the outbreak has affected 54 people in 15 states, and around one third of the affected required hospitalization. At the moment, no cases have been reported in Michigan, but situations like this remind us that we should always keep zoonotic diseases in mind.

Zoonotic diseases are diseases that are transferred between animals and people. Some of the zoonotic diseases of dairy cattle that are present in the U.S are cryptosporidiosis, E. Coli, ringworm, salmonella, and tuberculosis. These diseases are not present in every herd, but they represent a potential risk that need to be addressed in every farm.

Cattle do not always show clinical signs of the diseases, despite being carriers. For example, a healthy cow can have E. coli in her digestive system and be shedding E. coli in its feces. That same E. coli can cause severe symptoms if a person is infected with it.

People that work with dairy cattle can be at risk of becoming infected with a zoonotic disease. However, families of employees and people in close contact with dairy personnel can be at risk too. The compliance of preventive measures protects not only people in direct contact with animals, but also people in their homes. Prevention is especially important if there are children under 5 years old, elderly or people with weak immune systems in the families of the dairy personnel, since they can get sick more easily and could have more severe symptoms of the disease.

Contracting a zoonotic disease not only has consequences on the health and wellbeing of the person affected, it also impacts the normal operation of a dairy farm. In times when the work force is very limited, producers cannot afford to have a valuable worker off the farm due to a preventable disease.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following preventive measures of zoonotic disease:

  • Cow health: Good health and disease control reduces or eliminates the risk of infection.
  • Education: Make sure that the dairy personnel, especially new employees without livestock experience, know what zoonotic diseases are and how to prevent them. You should work with your veterinarian or Michigan State University Extension educator to provide the education for your workers.
  • Use of personal protective equipment: Dairy personal should wear coveralls or dedicated work clothes, boots and gloves. If possible, work clothing should be washed and kept at the farm. In some cases, mask and googles might be necessary.
  • Hygiene: Wash hands after working with animals or with equipment that is in contact with animals, do not eat or drink while working with animals and store work clothes and boots outside the house.
  • Unpasteurized milk: Do not allow employees to drink unpasteurized milk or colostrum from the farm. Unpasteurized milk consumption could potentially cause infections with tuberculosis, salmonella, brucellosis or E. coli.

These preventive measures may not eliminate the risk of zoonotic disease completely, but they help to control it and decrease it.

Efforts need to be made to prevent zoonotic diseases from impairing your employees and their families. If you have not address this issue, now would be a good time to start implementing this advice. With the help of your veterinarian or Michigan State University Extension educator, you can develop a strategy to reduce the risk of zoonotic disease on your farm. 

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