Vet warns of infection risk due to wet calving conditions

A North Dakota State University Extension Service veterinarian says cattle producers should be especially careful to avoid a parasitic infection during this spring’s damp calving conditions.

Charlie Stoltenow says a number of calves are suffering from cryptosporidiosis this spring, which can put their handlers at risk.

“This extremely wet and sloppy spring calving season increases the risk of cryptosporidia infections, not only in our calves, but in the people caring for them,” Stoltenow said in a release.

Cryptosporidiosis is caused by the protozoan parasite cryptosporidium parvum. The organism can affect the epithelial cells in human gastrointestinal, bile duct and respiratory tracts. More than 45 species of animals, including cattle, sheep, poultry, fish, reptiles, dogs, cats and rodents, also can become infected.

The disease is passed from animals to people or person to person through feces. The parasite most commonly is found in food and water contaminated by feces from an infected animal or human. It can survive under very adverse conditions and is very resistant to disinfectants. People can re-infect themselves one or more times.

The release says the disease can affect people of all ages. People may have the disease with no symptoms, so they become a source of infection to others. People who do have symptoms may experience diarrhea, anorexia and vomiting, but those should disappear in one to two weeks in healthy people. However, it can be a serious, prolonged disease in people with immature or compromised immune systems, such as children and older adults.

No vaccine is available to prevent this disease, Stoltenow says. He recommends:

• If you work with animals, wear protective clothing and wash your hands after handling the animals.

• Avoid exposure to animal feces, especially from calves with diarrhea.

• Keep children away from sick animals, especially calves with diarrhea.

• Wash your hands with soap after using the bathroom.

• Prepare food properly and wash your hands before eating.

• Dispose of human and animal feces properly.

• Disinfect areas where the disease could be spread.

Stoltenow also recommends people report suspected human cases of the disease to local health officials.

Symptoms in calves, lambs and young goats include diarrhea, anorexia and weight loss. The disease often occurs with other diarrhea-causing bacteria and/or viruses and in animals that have compromised immune systems. Re-infection can cause relapses, chronic infection and death.

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