Orf is a disease primarily of sheep and goats, but can also affect humans. It is caused by a parapoxvirus known as orf virus (ORFV) which has a worldwide distribution. Although it can affect animals of any age it is most prevalent around lambing time, affecting both lambs and ewes. Farmers, shepherds, veterinarians, abattoir workers and fleece handlers are at greatest occupational risk of contracting the disease, but others have been exposed through recreational use of the countryside.
The disease is characterised by scabby lesions that are often bloody, that form around the mouth and nares of the affected animals and in the ewe can often be found on the teats. In humans lesions are most commonly seen on the hands. If the disease affects nursing ewes they are often reluctant to allow lambs to suckle and equally, affected lambs often find normal feeding difficult. Together this can result in weakened lambs that do not thrive as well as their unaffected cohorts and that are more susceptible to other infections.
Scientists at Moredun have been characterising ORFV to try and understand how it causes disease. Other lines of research involve the development of more accurate diagnostics for the virus and better vaccines to protect animals against the disease.
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