Zoonotic Disease and Agriculture

Cows in Field

(Source: Penn State Ag Safety and Health)

Use the following format to cite this article:

Zoonotic disease and agriculture. (2013). Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from http://www.extension.org/pages/67489/zoonotic-disease-and-agriculture.


Zoonotic diseases, or zoonoses, are diseases that can be transmitted from insects or vertebrate animals to humans. Zoonoses are caused by bacteria, protozoa, fungi, viruses, or parasites, which are often part of an animal’s natural flora but cause disease in humans. Infections can result from direct contact with animals or their products such as manure or placenta. Direct transmission can also occur through consumption of animal products (e.g., raw meat, raw milk, etc.) or through an animal bite. Humans can also become indirectly infected by contact with contaminated soil, food (e.g., produce), or water. Farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, slaughterhouse workers, and other agricultural workers have a higher risk of contracting zoonoses because of their close contact with animals.

Good personal hygiene is a primary line of defense against the transmission of zoonoses (e.g., influenza). For example, if your hands have been contaminated with bacteria, and you do not wash your hands, you could introduce the bacteria into your body when eating or rubbing your eyes. Protect yourself from most zoonotic diseases by practicing good hygiene after handling animals or their waste by thoroughly washing your hands with soap and running water for 20 seconds and use a paper towel to dry your hands.

In addition to proper hand washing, the following recommendations can further reduce your risk for zoonoses:

Personal protective equipment: Use appropriate personal protective equipment (e.g., waterproof apron, rubber gloves, face shields, etc.) when completing high-risk activities (e.g., handling a placenta after birth).

Work clothes – Have designated work clothes and boots that you use specifically for farm and ranch jobs, and regularly wash these clothes.

Work space – Disinfect and maintain a clean work space and environment.

Wound care – If you have a cut or abrasion, properly clean and cover the area with a waterproof bandage to reduce contaminants from entering your body through the wound. Wear gloves over bandaged wounds on the hands. Do not work with animals if your wound cannot be completely covered or is actively bleeding.  

Disposal of medical waste – When completing herd health responsibilities (e.g., handling blood samples), properly label and dispose of waste (e.g., syringes) rather than using your domestic waste disposal. Check state guidelines for specific disposal requirements.

Monitor herd health – Complete recommended immunizations and monitor all animals on your farm or ranch for disease and stress. Isolate and treat sick animals.  

Rodent reduction – Control or eliminate rat and mouse populations, which can carry and transmit disease.

Visitor education – Inform visitors about the importance of good hygiene practices on your farm or ranch. Provide hand washing facilities (running water, soap, and paper towels are preferred over hand sanitizer). Use signage to encourage visitors to practice good hand hygiene particularly after visiting with animals.   

Food safety issues – Have designated eating areas on the farm away from animals. Properly cook meat, avoid cross contamination (contamination between foods), and do not consume raw meat and milk.


Click HERE to be directed to the publication titled Disease from Select Zoonotic Agents to learn more about the routes of transmission, type of diseases, animal carriers, incubation period, and clinical signs.


Use the following format to cite this article:

Zoonotic disease and agriculture. (2013). Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from http://www.extension.org/pages/67489/zoonotic-disease-and-agriculture.




Disease from select zoonotic agents. (2005) Iowa State University. The Center for Food Security & Public Health. Retrieved from http://www.cfsph.iastate.edu/Zoonoses/assets/English/DiseaseFromSelectZoonoticAgentsWallChartWebVersion.pdf.

Harshman, W., Yoder, A., Hilton, J., & Murphy, D. (2013) Animal, wildlife, and insect related hazards. HOSTA Task Sheet 3.14. The Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved from http://www.extension.org/sites/default/files/NSTMOP%20Task%20Sheets%20Se….

Murdoch, B. (2007) Zoonoses – animal diseases that may also affect humans. Department of Primary Industries. Victoria, Australia. Retrieved from http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/pests-diseases-and-weeds/anima….


Reviewed and Summarized by:
Glen Blahey, Canadian Agricultural Safety Association GBlahey@casa.acsa.ca

Lynn Z. Blevins, University of Vermont lblevins@uvm.edu
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University – lmf8@psu.edu
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University (has since retired)
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center – aaron.yoder@unmc.edu