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Occupational Health: Farm Worker Health and Safety

Cow milking facility with stanchions

People who live or work with animals or animal products should be aware that even healthy animals (cattle, goats, sheep, pics, chickens, turkeys) can pass on diseases (such as avian flu, E. coli, and Campylobacter) to humans. Diseases can also spread through manure/droppings, milk, and animal products like uncooked eggs or meat.

Children, pregnant women, the elderly and any person with a weakened immune system may be at an increased risk of getting sick or becoming severely ill.

People who do not have direct contact with animals, animal products, or manure/droppings have become infected when other people in their home inadvertently carried a disease into the home or vehicle on their hands, clothes or shoes.

The most common organisms that can be passed from animals to people include: Salmonella, Cryptosporidium, Campylobacter, E. coli, and Giardia.

Tips for people who live on a farm or work with animals or animal products

Image of a chicken

Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after you are done working with animals or animal products, handling equipment used on animals, or coming into contact with anything in the area where animals are present, including soiled surfaces and droppings.

  • This is especially important to do before preparing or consuming food or drink for yourself or others.
  • Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.

Use separate shoes, work gloves, and clothing when working with animals or animal products.

  • Keep these items outside of your home, or remove or change immediately when arriving home, to prevent contamination of the home environment.
  • Change or remove soiled clothing and boots before getting into vehicles.
  • Wash hands after taking off any clothes and shoes you wore while working with animals or animal products.

Supervise small children during any animal encounter and discourage behaviors that can increase their risk of illness.

  • Young children and people with weakened immune systems should avoid direct contact with calves, especially those with diarrhea (scours).
  • Young children and people with weakened immune systems should avoid direct contact with poultry and freshly laid eggs when avian flu is in your area.
  • Do not allow toys, pacifiers, spill-proof cups, baby bottles, strollers, or similar items in areas with animals or animal products.

Do not eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum in the areas where animals, animal products, or animal droppings are present.

Do not drink unpasteurized (raw) milk.

Work with your veterinarian to keep your animals healthy.

Get your annual flu vaccine. Although the flu shot can't prevent illnesses carried by animals, it can keep you from becoming sick with avian influenza and another illness at the same time.

Practice good biosecurity to help prevent the spread of diseases among people, your animals, and wildlife.

If you do become ill with flu-like symptoms, diarrhea lasting more than a few days, or a high fever, notify your health care provider and tell them that you work with animals or their products.

Avian influenza resources

Avian Influenza (also known as bird flu) is very contagious and can make birds very sick. It can also spread among other animals, like cows. Check out the resources below to learn more about what avian influenza is, where it has recently been detected, and biosecurity measures you can take to protect animals and people.

More resources

Last revised April 8, 2024