Orf in Goats

A severe viral infection

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Goat Diseases

Orf Virus in Goats

Orf  (also known as contagious ecthyma, scabby mouth, contagious pustular dermatitis, or sore mouth) is a viral skin and mucosae disease which causes scabby lesions usually around the area of the mouth, lips and nose (Spyrou and Valiakos, 2015). Orf virus infects mainly sheep and goats (being more severe in goats) but has also been reported in camelids, deer, reindeer, dogs, cats and squirrels. Orf is very contagious, it is spread through direct animal-to-animal contact entering through damaged skin. It is often self-limiting but is zoonotic, although is considered more of an occupation hazard for people working with livestock.

Orf is a global pathogen which causes significant financial losses in livestock production as the lesions often jeopardise optimum productivity, and reduce the market value of meat. Severe lesions can interfere with feeding, or if the teats and/or udder are infected, it may lead to abandonment of offspring  (Nandi et al., 2011).

Clinical Signs of Orf

Orf goats farmers weekly South Africa

Orf infection on a goat in South Africa. The scabby lesions on the nose, mouth and ears are fairly typical of Orf infection. This image is from www.farmersweekly.co.za

Orf virus transmission occurs through direct contact, entering through damaged skin. The virus replicates in the surrounding skin cells causing typical characteristic lesions. Approximately a week after the initial infection, kids usually have a raised temperature followed by the development of spots, pustules and scabs at the infection site which is often the mouth, lips and nose area. Lesions can also be seen on the tongue, gums and palate (McElroy and Bassett, 2007). Younger animals (<2 months) are most susceptible and the infection can extend of the face, feet, flanks, scrotum and peri-anal area. The development pattern takes place in a period of about 2 months (Nandi et al., 2011). In most cases orf is a benign, self-limiting disease and can cure itself in a few months, however in very young animals it can be persistent and even fatal (Spyrou and Valiakos, 2015).

Other diseases that cause pustular lesions on the mouth include foot and mouth disease, blue-tongue disease, pox, mange and bacterial dermatitis.

Orf can be spread from the mouth of young kids to the teats of does, predisposing the animals to mastitis (Mavrogianni and Fthenakis, 2007). In adult animals lesions can also be found on the genitals. This venereal infection can lead to the inability of adults to copulate (Spyrou and Valiakos, 2015).

Secondary bacterial infections and Orf

Secondary bacterial infections are not uncommon and usually involve staphylococci, streptococci, Fusobacterium, cornyebacterium and less often dermatophilius (Spyrou and Valiakos, 2015). In some affected animals the condition is aggravated by flies.

Control and Prevention of Orf in Goats

Prevention is better than cure. Biosecurity and quarantine are paramount to prevent orf virus from establishing on the farm. Purchased animals should be quarantined before mixing with the current herd.  If the virus becomes established, every animal with clinical signs must be housed away from virus-free animals to prevent further spread.

The orf virus can survive in dry environments for many years (Spyrou and Valiakos, 2015). It is likely that the virus can persist in buildings and on handling equipment, therefore good farm hygiene is important. All housing and equipment should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between groups. When possible young stock should be housed away from contaminated buildings.

Vaccinating against Orf

If orf is a problem then vaccination is possible to reduce the severity of the disease. Orf vaccine contains live virus so must be administered with extra care.  It is important that vaccinated animals do not come into contact with unvaccinated animals for at least 7 days, and the vaccine should NEVER be used on farms with no previous cases of orf (see box).

There is only partial immunity following clinical disease or vaccination, recurrent infections can occur in 1 – 3 months but are usually less severe and heal rapidly (Nandi et al., 2011)

Group of young male Boer goats

Do not be tempted to vaccinate a herd which is free from orf because the vaccine used is a live virus and you run the risk of introducing the disease to your herd if infection spreads before immunity kicks in (Harwood, 2006).

Treatment of Orf in Goats

There is no treatment available for orf as it is a primary viral infection. However treatment with local antiseptics and pain relief can be helpful for secondary infections. Every animal with clinical signs should be kept and fed separately from symptom free animals. Supportive treatment for young animals who are unable to feed well should be undertaken (Nandi et al., 2011).

Few traditional herbal therapies have been attempted in orf virus infection including plant oils from sesame, juice from Euphorbia spp., and in France and the Netherlands common holly plant (Ilex aquifolium) is used for curing and preventing orf (Nandi et al., 2011).

Orf in humans from cdc

Orf virus is zoonotic. Gloves and a mask should be worn when handling goats with of lesions.  This image is from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) website www.tinyurl.com/cdc-orf-hand

Orf and Public Health

Human orf lesions generally appear on fingers, hands or forearms, after a three to seven day incubation period. Most infections are self-limiting, resolving in about four to eight weeks. Treatment consists of basic wound care. Protective immunity is incomplete, so people can become  infected multiple times (Ganter, 2015).

Due to the zoonotic nature of this virus, people who come into contact with infected animals should wear protective gloves and a mask. They should be careful to avoid any contact of abraded skin with infected animals (Nandi et al., 2011; Spyrou and Valiakos, 2015).

Good Practice Based on Current Knowledge

  • Maintain a closed herd
  • Quarantine any new animals and observe closely for any signs of infection
  • Do not vaccinate unless orf is a reoccurring problem on your farm
  • Separate any infected animals and ensure they can feed effectively, assist if necessary
  • Lesions may become susceptible to secondary bacterial invasion, so treat with antiseptics if necessary

Orf in Goats References
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  • Livestock should be land-based and integrated with farm cropping enterprises
  • Animals should be provided with conditions that enable them to exhibit natural behaviours
  • Dependency on veterinary medicines should be reduced without jeopardising the well-being of animals


outdoor access

Animals having outdoor access, shade, shelter, lighting and sufficient space for them to undertake free movement and to exhibit natural behaviors.


Using breeds and strains well-suited and adapted to the prevailing conditions.

Health Plan

Implementing herd and flock planning based on sound ecological practices and epidemiological knowledge.


Undertaking good practice with regard to biosecurity.

closed herds

Maintaining animals in closed herds and flocks and at stocking rates that enables free-movement, reduces risks of disease spread and minimises environmental damage.

forage and grazing

Forage and grazing being the main source of nutrients for ruminants, and continuously available to non-ruminants.

production practices

Avoiding the use of mutilations as standard production practices.


Improved understanding and responsible usage of veterinary medicines.