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Contagious Ecthyma / Soremouth / Orf

Remember the days when you soaked in a bathtub of oatmeal in hopes of soothing the horrible itch caused from the sometimes not so small bumps erupting like little volcanoes on your skin? Or do you recall that brownish-pink lotion that your parents painstakingly dabbed here and there in an attempt to get you to stop digging your nails into your flesh like zombies roaming the world?

If so, you aren’t alone.

As we work to try to understand our beloved version of Lay’s Potato Chips (commonly known as goats), we sometimes try to see some similarities in what we encounter with them with what we see within the “people” world. In doing so, we may feel a little confident in how best to treat them when they become sick.

With that in mind, let me introduce you to the goat version of chickenpox: Orf (a/k/a contagious ecthyma or soremouth).

The reason I group the two together is due to the fact that they are both caused by viruses. Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, while orf is caused by the parapoxvirus. Both diseases, which are highly contagious, are also most prevalent in young kids (both the human and caprine kind). In addition, both viruses first appear as blisters, but soon resolve to nasty looking scabs.

Regardless of these or other similarities, I would like to turn your full attention to orf as the disease relates to goats. According to Langston University, orf is a highly contagious disease caused by a parapoxvirus that is most prevalent in young kids. Although the disease is generally self-limiting and lasts 3 to 4 weeks, some strains of the orf virus cause more severe and extensive. The virus causes sores which usually develop around the lips, muzzle, and mouth. However, the lesions may also develop on the teats, vulva, and legs of affected goats. Keep in mind that lesions located on the lips are extremely painful and inhibit nursing or eating, while does with sores on their teats may be unwilling to let kids suckle. This combination, without intervention, may result in death of the kids due to starvation. The infection is spread by direct and indirect contact from infected animals, including contact with scabs or saliva. A herd can become infected through contaminated bedding, feed or trucks, or by direct contact with infected animals. Immunity following disease is for less than 1 year. However, subsequent outbreaks are usually less severe. Affected animals should be isolated. Lesions should be carefully cleaned with iodine or chlorhexidine. Coat the lesions with antibiotic ointment to prevent secondary bacterial infection. Pain relievers may also be given. It is crucial to make sure that affected kids continue to eat and that affected does don’t develop mastitis. The orf virus survives in soil, and carrier animals may not show symptoms. As a result, it is difficult to prevent infection. Quarantine new animals until orf (and other diseases) can be ruled out. Use of the contagious ecthyma vaccine is only suggested for previously infected herds as vaccination will cause an orf virus infection in the animals and lead to contamination of the operation with virus-containing scabs.

Note: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that this disease is zoonotic, meaning people can easily contract it.As such, it is important that you take precautions when handling goats that are infected with the virus (or could be infected with it).Always wear gloves when treating these animals or giving vaccines.

(All Images Courtesy of Rodney Davis and Used With Permission)


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