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I Kid You Not, Goats Carry Bacteria

Posted in E. coli,Listeria,Outbreaks & Recalls on August 14, 2018

People keep animals for many reasons.  On the topic of goats, reasons might include to help out with yardwork, provide food for the family, or as a family pet.  In my household, we have goats for all of the above.

Goat Benefits

Tom, Ferg, Wild, and Jessie help keep our backyard maintained and manage the poison ivy we fought for so many summers.  We are planning to breed Wild to provide some milk for cheese and potentially meat for the freezer as their little herd begins to grow.  But they are also so much fun to watch and interact with.  Goats are fun critters to keep around.  When they are young, they often find themselves in precarious situations.

Our young Nubian would routinely find himself caught in a tree he was climbing.  It is fun to watch young bucks play with each other, butting heads for a moment then getting distracted by a dragonfly.  If you keep them social, they will run to you when you call their name and be ready for cuddles when they get to you.

As with any animal, there is a balance between human interaction and human safety.  Most areas of human safety can be mitigated by common sense hygiene and preventative measures.  Many diseases goats can contract can be passed on to their two-legged family.  Even still, goats might be carriers of pathogens where the animal shows no signs or symptoms.

Goat Risks

What Should You Look Out For?

From Brucellosis to Tuberculosis, many diseases can be passed from animal to human.  Some cause minor illness, while others lead to more life-threatening results.  Most of these are more serious for the very young, the very old, and those with a compromised immune system.


Brucellosis is a bacteria disease that affects the reproductive ability of the infected animal.  It can be spread to humans through contact with birthing tissue or unpasteurized milk.  Goats, along with sheep, cattle, pigs, and dogs.  Infected animals may not show any symptoms, though it could be represented by decreased appetite, weight loss, behavioral changes, and lack of energy.  Brucellosis can cause early-term fetal deaths in animals and sometimes in people.

Humans infected with brucellosis often become sick within 6 to 8 weeks of exposure.  Symptoms resemble that of the flu and can last anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks, or possibly longer if it becomes a chronic illness. 

Contagious Ecthyma

Contagious ecthyma, also known as “sore mouth” or “scabby mouth” is a disease infecting goats and sheep caused by a virus.  Goats tend to be more severely affected than sheep.  You might see an infected animal with sores that scab over on their skin and lips.  Sheep and goats may also get sores on their lower legs and udder when infected offspring nurse.

People contract contagious ecthyma after touching an animal’s sores or piece of equipment that has come in contact with an infected animal’s sores.  Humans will usually get sores on their hands from touching infected areas.  These sores, while they often heal without scarring, can be painful and last up to 2 months.

Echerichia coli

Escherichia coli is a bacterium normally found in the intestinal tract of farm animals.  Animals such as sheep, goats, calves, and backyard poultry may not show any signs of disease.

In humans, symptoms are often presented as severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting.  While most people recover without issue, others may suffer from hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which affects the kidneys and causes additional complications.

Leptospirosis (E. coli ssp.)

Leptospirosis is transmitted through contaminated water and urine, along with other bodily fluids from an infected animal.  Cows, pigs, sheep, goats, horses, and small rodents may become infected without any outward sign of illness.  Eventually, untreated leptospirosis can lead to kidney or liver failure.

Humans may not show any signs of the disease as well.  If they do, however, it will be similar to flu-like symptoms and include headache, chills, vomiting, fever, and rash.  If symptomatic, they will generally appear within 2 to 7 days from exposure.  This often resolves without medical treatment but in some cases leads to more severe disease such as jaundice, kidney or liver failure, or meningitis.


Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that can infect both people and animals through contaminated food, soil, or water.  Sheep, cattle, goats, and occasionally pigs are animals at risk for infection.  Animal symptoms display as drooping ears or lips that hang open and can also present as disorientation.  Listeria can cause abortions and potentially death of the infected animal.

Infections in people are often contracted though contaminated food.  Human symptoms could range from asymptomatic to headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions.  They may also experience fever and muscle aches.  Infection during pregnancy can be life threatening for the fetus.

Q Fever

Q fever, caused by the bacteria Coxiella burnetii can infect both humans and animals.  Cattle, sheep, and goats are the most commonly affected animal.  C. burnetiid is spread through contaminated milk or breathing in dust contaminated with C. burnetii.  Infection may also be transmitted through contact with contaminated urine, feces, or birthing tissue of infected animals.  The highest risk of infection occurs around the time sheep and goats give birth.

In humans, symptoms begin to develop about 2 to 3 weeks after exposure and range from flu-like symptoms to more severe.  Untreated, Q fever in humans could lead to pneumonia, liver disease, and heart disease.


Rabies is a neurologic disease that can affect animals and people.  The most common route of infection involves bites from rabid animals.  Animal symptoms include a sudden behavioral change followed by paralysis.  Some animals may be protected against rabies infection by vaccination.

In humans, symptoms may begin anywhere from days to months after exposure.  Symptoms include weakness, fever, and headache.  After initial symptoms appear, symptoms will worsen to confusion, anxiety, unusual behavior, and delirium.

IF YOU ARE BITTEN BY AN ANIMAL ACTING STRANGE, CONTACT A HEALTH CARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY!  Once symptoms begin to appear, it is often too late for treatment to be successful.


Ringworm, or dermatophytosis, is caused by a fungus that infects skin, hair, and nails of both humans and animals.  It is spread through direct contact with infected skin or hair.  Cows, sheep, goats, and pigs can have ringworm infection.  Symptoms include small areas of hair loss around their ears, face, or legs and often scaly or crusty skin, though some animals may not show any signs of infection.

Ringworm infection in people can be observed on just about any part of the human body.  These areas are often itchy and redness, scaling, cracking of the skin, or a ring-shaped rash may be present.  In hairy areas such as the scalp or beard, hair may fall out.  Infected nails may become discolored or thick and could crumble.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex is a group of bacteria that can cause tuberculosis.  Cattle, goats, and deer can carry tuberculosis.  Symptoms include weakness, lack of appetite, weight loss, and fever and may display a persistent cough, though some may show no symptoms at all.

Humans are most likely infected after consuming infected unpasteurized milk or milk products or undercooked meat.  Human infection can also be caused by breathing in the bacteria or through skin by cuts or scrapes.  Symptoms can include sores, swollen lymph nodes, difficulty breathing weight loss, night sweats, fever, and intestinal upset.

Staying Safe 

How Can I Prevent Illness?

Just about everything mentioned above can be blocked from being passed from animal to human through a few common-sense activities, save for possibly rabies.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers some helpful tips to protect yourself and your family as well as the animals.


Pretty much you first line of defense against any pathogen is handwashing.  When preventing passing infection from animal to human, this is a key step.  Wash your hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds.  Always wash you hands after contact with animals or items such as fences, buckets, or equipment used outside with the animals.  If soap and water are not immediately available, use hand sanitizer and properly wash hands as soon as possible.

Also, wash hands again after removing your shoes.  Your shoes are in closest contact with harmful bacteria.  We don’t think too much about it, but not washing your hands after touching your shoes is about the equivalent of serving your next meal on those sneakers.  Not a pretty picture when you think about it.

Monitor Hands

Avoid touching your mouth until you have washed your hands.  Avoid activities such as nail biting, finger sucking, and eating dirt.  While an adult might not be guilty of making and eating the mud pie, keep an eye out for little ones to help keep them from doing something that might make themselves sick.

While supervising children, do not allow toys, pacifiers, spill-proof cups, baby bottles, strollers, or other items children put in their mouths into the animal areas.

Cover Up

Be sure to cover any cuts or open wounds when visiting or working around these animals.  Bacteria can make its way into the wound and into the bloodstream causing serious illness.  Keep an eye on any cuts or wounds to ensure they do not become infected later.

Don’t Eat or Drink

Do not eat or drink in areas that animals roam or after touching animals until you have washed your hands.  Most illness is spread through oral contamination.  Harmful bacteria can hitch a ride on your food, turning your snack into a gastrointestinal missile.

Dedicated Clothing

If you keep or work with goats or farm animals, having dedicated clothing is another way to prevent the spread of pathogens.  Dedicated shoes and gloves are great to have so that you can only use them when working with your animals.  Avoid cross contamination when visiting another farm.  Be sure to scrub your shoes and change your clothes before interacting with their animals and again before returning to your own animals.

Animal Health Care

Schedule routine veterinary exams and treatments to keep your little farm healthy and prevent infectious diseases.  Follow your veterinarian’s suggested worming schedule that is appropriate for your type of animal and geological area.  Discard expired or spoiled feed to be sure they are consuming feed free of pathogens.  Clean their areas frequently and dispose of soiled bedding as needed.

By: Heather Van Tassell, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)