Safer ‘Kode’ of practice needed for vaccinating livestock 03 Feb 2016

Every year Australian livestock producers vaccinate thousands of animals without a problem.

But if you miss and accidentally inject yourself with a veterinary product, you could be off work for months and face multiple surgeries, skin grafts, gangrene and even amputation.

Dr Gary Kode, a Tasmanian-based reconstructive and plastic surgeon, says accidental injection is relatively common in the livestock industry and many veterinary products are toxic to humans.

“On average a patient accidentally injected with the vaccine for the sheep wasting disease OJD will be off work for eight months and have six operations,” Dr Kode said.

“Some vaccines have mycobacterium in them, which is from the same family as tuberculosis. This is appallingly irritating to tissue when combined with mineral oil, which is also a common ingredient.”

One of his cases involved a 56-year-old man who accidentally injected vaccine into his right hand and was given antibiotics by his GP before being referred to Dr Kode.

“I saw him on day four and he was in excruciating pain, but we needed to allow the vaccine to become localised before we could remove it. It ended up being several weeks before we were able to do a radical excision and remove the vaccine that had formed a mass in the muscles of his hand.”

He said the surgery was similar to that required to remove cancer.

“Most accidental vaccinations occur in the non-dominant hand. In one case a 31-year-old farmer injected his left index finger with a vaccination for pink eye,” Dr Kode said.

“The major problem in this case was the mineral oil. He sought treatment immediately and was given antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and then surgery, but in the end his finger developed gangrene and had to be amputated.”

Dr Kode’s advice to those who accidentally inject themselves is to see a GP for antibiotics (needles are rarely clean) and anti-inflammatories, before being referred onto a specialist.

Fellow Tasmanian and lamb producer Georgie Burbury has started using safety vaccination needles as one of the strategies to boost on-farm safety at her family’s lamb feedlot in Cressy.

“Safety needles are very practical, because you know that if a needle drops there is no chance that it can scratch someone or inject anyone,” Ms Burbury said.

“They’re a really important piece of equipment that allows us to work really fast when we need to, but also really safely.”

Ms Burbury features in a video produced by the Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership (PIHSP), which is funded by several Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) to encourage better on-farm safety practices.

Click here or visit the RIRDC YouTube channel to see Ms Burbury talking about the best management practices at the Eastfield farm and feedlot.

Dr Kode says the message to livestock producers administering vaccines is to exercise extreme care and seek specialist treatment immediately in the event of accidental injection.

The surgeon is also calling for a national specialist centre to be established in Australia to allow for research into the best treatment practices.

“Currently there is no research, we are just relying on anecdotal information to guide treatment. Accidental injection represents a serious risk for those working with livestock, so we need to know the most effective medical response,” he said.

To reduce the risk of needle stick injury:

- Always read the safety instructions on the label

- Keep the animals well restrained prior to vaccinating

- Needles should be removed with pliers and disposed of properly

- All obstacles around the working area are cleared to reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls.

For more tips, visit:

Dr Kode was a guest speaker at the 2015 Nuffield Australia National Conference. Click here to watch his presentation on accidental injection with veterinary products or visit the Nuffield Australia YouTube channel.

The goal of the PIHSP is to improve the health and safety of workers and their families in farming and fishing industries across Australia. For more information, visit