Sunday, 17 December 2017 08:55

Lepto no longer men-only disease

Written by  Peter Burke
Rural Women NZ president Fiona Gower. Rural Women NZ president Fiona Gower.

With more women working in farming, more are contracting the disease leptospirosis, says the president of Rural Women NZ, Fiona Gower.

She told Dairy News, at a recent international conference on leptospirosis in Palmerston North, that the changing nature of the workforce on farms and in the rural sector generally means this disease is no longer a probably only for men.

Women are getting to work on farms in their own right or in a partnership, “feeding calves, milking cows, doing work with the stock -- much more hands on these days”.

“That’s why there is more prevalence of women getting the disease. The causes include rats running over the bags of feed where they are feeding calves, or in the milking shed; and there may be something in the woolshed for those doing the dagging and shearing as well.”

Gower says it’s also believed the spread of the disease may be connected to wet weather because it is spread through water. Women cleaning mud or water from homes or from silt around a farm are possible causes of their increased infection rates.

Rural Women NZ and its predecessor, the women’s division of Federated Farmers, have supported research at Massey University into leptospirosis for 40 years and they will continue to do this, Gower says.

“In the 1970s and 80s the women’s division of Federated Farmers gave $150,000 to research on lepto in the dairy and pork industries which led to vaccination. Again in 2007-08 we gave more funding for two PhD students to look at issues in the meat industry, in particular deer. The main reason is because of the harm the disease does in rural communities.”

Heart wrenching stories are told about the disease’s impact on individuals, families, businesses and the whole rural society including schools. Some people have had to quit their jobs.

Rural Women NZ will keep working to raise awareness of lepto in rural areas, Gower says. It is targeting people on farms and rural professionals including health workers.


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