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Scabby mouth (Orf)

Scabby mouth is a disease caused by a virus that is common in sheep and goats and some other ruminants. This diseases is referred to as contagious ecthyma, or orf in humans. Scabby mouth is very contagious among sheep and most commonly is detected by a scab appearing on the mouth, muzzle, teats, legs or feet (see photo).

Farmers and farm workers can catch scabby mouth when they have an abrasion that comes into contact with infected animals. They can also be infected accidentally when handling the Scabby mouth vaccine.  Human to human transmission is extremely rare.

Once infected, people have life time immunity.  No medical treatment is required for this virus. Normal wound management – keep the wound clean and covered – will see the orf heal in 4-6 weeks.

Red papules or lesions are symptoms in humansSymptoms in humans

  • Red papules or lesions, usually on hands or arms (under the armpit for shearers from holding feet under their arms)
  • Low fever (sometimes)

Lesions usually heal without treatment, but sometimes they can become infected. This is a particular concern for people with compromised immune systems.
People who have dermatitis, which is common among farmers, may get large lesions which are slow to heal.

Treatment

  • For healthy people, moist dressings and keeping wound clean are usually enough.
  • Antibiotics are not necessary, unless secondary bacterial infection occurs.

Prevention

  • Avoid handling sheep with scabby mouth
  • Wear latex gloves if you must handle infected animals
  • Cover your scratches and cuts when you vaccinate sheep or goats
  • Consider wearing rubber gloves when you vaccinate animals for scabby mouth
  • Wash the area immediately if you accidentally come in contact with the vaccine
  • Wash all exposed skin with soap and water – do not use a scrubbing brush as it can cause a break in the skin and introduce the virus

References used for this topic page

More information:

Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities
Contagious Ecthyma (Orf/Sore Mouth) in Sheep and Goats

Department of Environment and Primary Industries (Vic)
Scabby mouth (orf) – a disease of sheep and goats

Department of Primary Industries (NSW)
Sheep Health – Scabby Mouth

The Center for Food Security and Public Health
Contagious Ecthyma

Research & reviews:

The Journal of the American Medical Association
Orf Virus Infection in Humans – New York, Illinois, California, and Tennessee, 2004-2005

Fast facts:

Scabby mouth (Orf)

  • Scabby mouth, also called orf, is a disease which farmers can catch from infected sheep.
  • Scabby mouth causes pustules and lesions on the areas where skin contact has occurred with infected sheep.
  • Take care when vaccinating animals, wear gloves.

Last updated: 5th December, 2016