Personal hygiene is especially important at lambing time for both humans and sheep. Public health officers report that New Zealand has the highest number of campylobacter cases per head of population in the world, and rural people are most affected because of the large number of animals around.
Campylobacter is one of a group of 'tummy bugs' that statistics show increases in severity in spring in rural areas, with south Canterbury having the highest incidence.
The campylobacter bacterium lives in the gut of domestic and wild animals and humans are infected by contamination from animal faeces showing up as diarrhoea, stomach cramps, vomiting, aches and feeling unwell.
Lambing, docking, dagging, crutching and shearing are all times of close contact with animals and hence high risk, as well as handling cattle for routine treatments like lice and worm control. Handling newborn lambs is a great source of possible infection and especially after lambing a ewe. Hands and arms should be well washed after these events.
It's a good idea to wear overalls with long sleeves when working with stock, and clothing contaminated with faeces needs to be washed after use. You see many farm overalls so well covered in dung that they can stand up on their own!
Because of the way campylobacter is picked up, anyone working with stock should avoid being splashed by urine or faeces, and everyone in the family should automatically wash their hands after working with livestock and certainly before touching or preparing food.