Scabby mouth (Orf)
Scabby mouth, also called contagious ecthyma, or orf when humans get it, is a disease caused by a virus that is common in sheep and goats and some other ruminants. 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 also catch scabby mouth when they have an abrasion that comes into contact with infected animals. They can also be infected accidentally when handling the vaccines. Human to human transmission is extremely rare.
Once infected, people have a life time immunity. No medical treatment is required as it is a virus. Normal wound management – keep the wound clean and covered – will see the orf heal in 4-6 weeks.
Symptoms 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.
- For healthy people, moist dressings and keeping wound clean are usually enough.
- Antibiotics are not necessary, unless secondary bacterial infection occurs.
- 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 accidently 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