Animals that are due, or have recently given birth, may carry germs that can affect pregnant women, such as chlamydiosis, listeriosis, Q fever and toxoplasmosis.
These infections are uncommon in sheep and very rare in humans. The number of human pregnancies affected by contact with sheep is extremely small.
Although the risks are low, pregnant women should still avoid close contact with sheep during lambing, including during visits to petting farms.
To avoid the risk of infection, pregnant women should:
Not help deliver lambs, calves or kids;
Not milk ewes;
Avoid contact with aborted (miscarried) or newborn lambs, and with the afterbirth, birthing fluids or contaminated materials, such as bedding;
Avoid handling or 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 clothing worn during lambing should be washed separately from other washing;
Ensure that contacts or partners who have attended animals giving birth take appropriate health and hygiene precautions. This includes wearing personal protective equipment and clothing and adequate washing to remove any potential contamination.
Pregnant women should be advised to seek medical advice if they experience fever or influenza-like symptoms, or if they are concerned that they could have acquired infection from a farm environment.
Consultant in Health Protection for Public Health England South West, Dominic Mellon, said:
“As we approach lambing season it is important to remind pregnant women about the potential risk of coming into contact with livestock that are or recently have given birth. Some infections can be passed to humans and if pregnant women become infected, it could harm her and her unborn baby’s health.
“Although the number of human pregnancies affected by contact with sheep is extremely small, it is important for pregnant women to avoid close contact with sheep and other livestock that have recently given birth.”
PHE guidance can be found here. Further information can be found on NHS Choices about infections in pregnancy and pregnancy and lambing.Follow