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Professional Version

Hazards Related to Environmental and Infectious Diseases in Veterinary Medicine


John D. Gibbins

, DVM, DACVPM, Agricultural Safety, National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;

Kathleen L. MacMahon

, DVM, MS, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Reviewed/Revised Dec 2022 | Modified Jun 2023

Biological Hazards

Veterinary workers are at risk of exposure to zoonotic diseases and other biological hazards. Sources of exposure include animals, body fluids, contaminated tools, surfaces, and other objects in the environment.

Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases as Biological Hazards in Veterinary Medicine

Zoonotic diseases Zoonotic Diseases The tables in this topic list zoonotic bacterial, viral and prion, fungal, and parasitic diseases. Many proven zoonoses, including some diseases that are rare in humans, organisms that are maintained... read more can be transmitted through close contact with infected animals by inhalation, oral exposure, and dermal exposure. The risk to veterinary staff depends on the species of animals they work with, the infection control practices in place, and the employee's personal health. A by organism, animal, distribution, method of transmission, and clinical signs is available in the Zoonotic Diseases Zoonotic Diseases The tables in this topic list zoonotic bacterial, viral and prion, fungal, and parasitic diseases. Many proven zoonoses, including some diseases that are rare in humans, organisms that are maintained... read more chapter.

Staff should be educated about the zoonotic risks in their workplace and trained in the best practices to minimize risk. Employers should provide the appropriate training, supplies, and controls, including personal protective equipment (PPE) where needed, to prevent and decrease workplace risk. A comprehensive resource for zoonotic disease control in veterinary practices is available: the Compendium of Veterinary Standard Precautions for Zoonotic Disease Prevention in Veterinary Personnel issued by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV).

Infection and Biosecurity Planning in Veterinary Medicine

Infection control practices are important to prevent and minimize the transmission of zoonotic pathogens from animals to veterinary staff. A written biosecurity plan should be developed and implemented. The NASPHV's Model Infection Control Plan for Veterinary Practices provides a template.

For more information, see:

Chemical Hazards

Veterinary staff are at risk of exposure to chemical hazards including disinfectants and other cleaning chemicals, hazardous drugs, latex, pesticides, and waste anesthetic gases.

Employers should provide understandable information about the identities and hazards of workplace chemicals to workers in accordance with the Hazard Communication standard of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). There should be a written hazard communication plan that includes a list of hazardous products in the workplace. Safety data sheets should be available for all chemicals used, and chemical containers should be appropriately labeled. Employers should train workers in how to handle chemicals appropriately, and they should provide controls to minimize exposures, including PPE, if needed.

For more information, see:

Waste Anesthetic Gases as Chemical Hazards in Veterinary Medicine

Workers can be exposed to anesthetic gases during veterinary dentistry and surgical procedures. Exposure to these gases, if they are not adequately controlled, may pose health risks to veterinary workers. Workers should be educated about the anesthetic gases they work with and trained in best practices for minimizing exposure. Anesthesia machines should be regularly maintained. The anesthesia area should be well ventilated, and appropriate scavenging equipment and other controls should be used.

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Drugs in Veterinary Medicine that are Hazardous to Humans

Hazardous drugs, such as antineoplastic drugs and other drugs that may be hazardous to humans, may be used to treat both small and large animals. Veterinary workers exposed to hazardous drugs may face adverse health risks. Employers should educate staff about the hazardous drugs they work with, including training them in best practices to minimize exposures. Clients should also be informed about home exposure to hazardous drugs and waste from animals who receive hazardous medications such as chemotherapeutic drugs.

For more information, see:

Hazards Related to Cleaning and Disinfection Products in Veterinary Medicine

The cleaning and disinfection products selected for use in veterinary settings should be safe and effective. Staff should be trained in the proper use, labeling, and storage of all cleaning and disinfection agents in the workplace.

For more information, see:

Surgical Smoke

Surgical smoke is produced when heat-producing instruments like lasers and electrocautery units are used to cauterize or cut tissue. This smoke is mostly water vapor, but it also contains by-products such as hydrocarbons, other chemicals, and potentially infectious agents. Surgical smoke can block vision of the surgical field and may generate odors that have been associated with eye, nose, and throat irritation, headache, and cough. In veterinary settings where surgeries are performed, employers should provide local exhaust ventilation and respiratory protection to minimize exposure.

For more information, see:

Allergies and Occupational Asthma

Allergies to animals have long been recognized in workers in laboratory animal settings. People can develop allergies to many animal species, and workers with greater exposure to animal waste, bedding, and dander may be at higher risk. Veterinary workers may also develop occupational asthma as a result of exposure to latex, disinfecting agents, cleaning agents, and other environmental exposures. Even low levels of exposure to an allergen may elicit a response in a sensitized worker.

For more information, see:

Hazardous Environmental Conditions

Veterinary staff who work outdoors are at risk for heat and cold stress and sun exposure. Stinging insects may also be a hazard. For information about these stressors and recommendations to prevent them, see:

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