Orf (Contagious Ecthyma)

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Guidance for Personnel Working with Sheep and Goats at Texas A&M University-Kingsville

What is orf?

Orf, also known as contagious ecthyma, sore mouth, contagious pustular dermatitis or scabby mouth, is a pox-like viral disease of sheep and goats. The disease is characterized by scabs and pustules on the face (muzzle, lips, inside the mouth and around the eyes), on the feet and occasionally on the udder. Orf can be occasionally be transmitted to humans.

How is orf spread?

A break in the skin allows the virus to enter the sheep and establish infection. Therefore, outbreaks are normally associated with abrasions. Ear tagging has also been associated with orf infection. The virus is spread from animal to animal and from animal to human by direct contact with the infected animal or by contact with contaminated items like wool, pens, feeders, waterers, and equipment. Humans are also susceptible when they come into contact with the sores or saliva of infected sheep or goats.

Who is at risk for infection?

Any person who comes into contact with virus from an infected animal or equipment (such as a harness that has rubbed against the animals sores) can potentially be infected, especially if there are open cuts or abrasions on the skin. Exposure to the virus may also occur from the bite of an infected animal. There is no human to human infection.

Is orf infection serious?

Most human infection consists of painful sores on the hands or fingers which can last for up to 2 months. People with weakened immune systems may have a more serious infection if exposed to orf.

How can I protect myself?

  1. Use good personal hygiene: Wash your hands after animal contact and before you leave the laboratory or animal facility. Do not eat, drink, smoke, take or apply medicine, store human food, handle contact lenses or apply cosmetics in animal facilities and laboratories. Wash your hands before engaging in these activities.
  2. Wear personal protective equipment: Wear protective clothing in the animal facility and laboratory. In addition to lab coats or coveralls, some facilities may require shoe coverings and/or gloves. Do not wear soiled protective clothing outside of the laboratory or animal facility. Do not launder soiled protective clothing at home. All soiled nondisposable clothing must be institutionally laundered. Protective garments, gloves, and disposable shoe coverings or sanitizable boots must be worn when handling live vaccine or animals with skin lesions.
  3. Animal care: Isolate animals with skin lesions whenever possible. Handle and care for contagious animals last whenever possible.
  4. Cleaning and disinfection: Disinfect laboratory work surfaces daily and after any spills with a disinfectant approved by the facility supervisor. Clean contaminated animal pens and cages to mechanically remove the agent. Disinfect animal areas and equipment with a disinfectant approved by the facility supervisor.
  5. Waste management: Dispose of laboratory waste, contaminated bedding, animals, their products and items contaminated by their products as approved of by the facility supervisor.

 What are the signs of orf infection?

In Animals: The disease takes 2-14 days to develop after exposure to the virus. Pox-like skin lesions in sheep and goats are usually found on the lips, but may be found on the nose, eyelids, ears, oral cavity, udder, wounds, skin at the top of the hoof or skin between the hoof claws.

In Humans: The disease in humans is similar to the disease in animals with a "chicken pox" type lesion usually developing on the fingers, hands, face, or forearms. The sores are red and swollen with a grayish center, are usually ? inch in diameter, and produce minor discomfort. The disease takes 2-10 days to develop after exposure and lasts for 1-6 weeks.

 What do I do if an exposure or injury occurs?

Exposure to aerosols, bites or scratches involving animals or injuries from objects contaminated with body fluids from animals require immediate first aid and medical attention. Notify your supervisor! Then, contact the University Police Department at 593-2611 or dial 911.

This page was last updated on: July 22, 2016