LLS – Scabby Mouth warning

DESEASE: Two cases of Scabby Mouth in sheep - mild (left) and severe (right).
DESEASE: Two cases of Scabby Mouth in sheep - mild (left) and severe (right).

After a couple of years working as the District Veterinarian with Local Land Services in Mudgee, I’m more convinced than ever that, when it comes to livestock health, production, and disease, information is vital. 

Information that is timely and accurate can be useful when aiming to prevent (or respond to) a livestock health issue. With this in mind, I’ll aim to provide some relevant advice in this column each Friday.

You might find information on a cattle disease which has been causing problems in the district, notification of a toxic plant around at a certain time of year, or perhaps some thoughts on a routine practice such as drenching sheep.

As a District Vet, some of my biggest priorities are: ‘biosecurity’ (which really just means stopping diseases entering or leaving a farm, region, or country), disease surveillance, emergency/exotic disease prevention or response, management of ‘endemic’ diseases (those which are already around), and animal welfare.

Another priority is ‘zoonotic’ disease, which can spread from animals to humans.

Interestingly, zoonotic diseases account for about 60 per cent of human pathogens, and might make up as much as 75 per cent of emerging diseases. Just think of Ebola, Hendra, or Avian Influenza.

Of course, (thankfully!) not all zoonotic diseases are as deadly as Ebola. ‘Ringworm’, a common skin condition (which isn’t caused by a worm at all, but by a fungus), is an example of a relatively benign zoonotic disease.

For livestock producers, there are a few zoonotic diseases to be aware of. ‘Scabby Mouth’, a common disease in sheep which causes raised, scabby lesions around the mouth, face, or feet, is caused by a tiny organism called the Orf virus. 

The virus can infect humans through broken skin or cuts, so it’s wise to wear gloves when handling affected sheep or goats. Orf virus in humans usually causes a blister-like skin lesion – if you suspect you have been infected you should talk to your doctor.

Another zoonotic disease you may have heard about is ‘Q Fever’ – caused by a bacteria, and can be carried by a range of animal species, including livestock. 

My colleagues and I have recently tested goat herds in the Central Tablelands, and found that the majority of herds have a few animals which have been exposed to the disease.

Humans can catch Q Fever by coming into contact with animal body fluids, as might occur if helping with a calving or delivering a lamb. However, the bacteria can also hang around in the environment for a long time, so even working in dusty stockyards can be enough to result in infection. 

For many people Q Fever causes no symptoms, while in others infection causes severe flu-like illness.