While sitting at the South Dakota State Fair watching all these little kids pet their calves, I got to thinking about what diseases people and cattle can give to each other.
We have been living side-by-side domesticated cattle for over 10,500 years, so it is not surprising that a few organisms have figured out how to cause disease in us both. Here’s a look at what I perceive to be the most common zoonotic diseases between cattle and people in our area.
Ringworm: This annoying fungus is what pops into my head first when I think of what can be transmitted between cattle and people. The transmission is through direct contact. Ringworm lesions will usually go away on their own, although it may take several months.
Salmonella: Salmonella is a bacterium that causes diarrhea in both adult cattle, calves and people. It is transmitted via the fecal-oral route. If a person has never been exposed to any of the zoonotic gastrointestinal pathogens that cattle carry, their symptoms may be worse than someone who has antibodies for that pathogen.
Escherichia coli: E. coli is a bacterium that is part of the normal flora of calves’ gastrointestinal system, although certain strains can cause diarrhea usually within the first seven days of life. It also causes diarrhea in people that is severe and bloody. The transmission between cattle to people (and even people to people) is fecal-oral.
Cryptosporidiosis: Crypto is a protozoal parasite that causes diarrhea in calves that are typically less than a month old. In people, it can cause explosive diarrhea and severe abdominal pain. The route of transmission between cattle to people is fecal-oral.
Anthrax: Although anthrax is not very common in our area, it is still something that is in the back of my mind every time I do a necropsy.
Anthrax is caused by a bacterium called Bacillus anthracis that creates spores in the soil and causes disease when it is inhaled. If you notice any cattle that have died suddenly and have blood coming out of their nose, call your veterinarian immediately and do not disturb the carcass.
Rabies: Whenever I’m doing a physical exam on a neurologic animal or doing a necropsy on one with a neurologic history, rabies is always a lingering thought. Rabies is a fatal disease that is spread from cattle to people through direct contact of saliva into open wounds or mucous membranes.
The best way to avoid getting the above diseases is common sense. If your calves have ringworm, wear gloves, wash your hands, and don’t touch or itch any part of your skin.
Don’t eat or drink around calves that could be shedding pathogens in their feces. Although it is tempting, don’t bring sick calves into places where you walk barefoot or where your kids crawl around.
Any animals that have died of sudden death or are neurologic should be examined by your veterinarian before you handle them.
And the last bit of preventative advice for this week comes from my Grandma Sharon after we were done doing chores; “Warsh your mittens!”