If you plan to visit a petting zoo this fall, you may be going home with more than you expected. Unfortunately, sometimes direct contact with animals can result in the transmission of one or more pathogens that could be a health hazard, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Late summer and fall are the times when transmission of E. coli is most common at petting zoos and fairs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Animals can carry a wide range of germs, including E. coli, without showing any signs of disease. When people come into contact with this bacteria, they can easily spread it if they put their fingers in their mouth or if they place other items that their hands have touched in their mouths without washing their hands first.
Symptoms of E. coli infection in humans include watery or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Young children, especially those younger than age five, are more likely to have severe symptoms.
Beyond petting zoos, E. coli can be transmitted to people in a variety of other ways, including eating contaminated food (including raw or undercooked meat), consuming contaminated fruits, vegetables, or deli meats, unpasteurized milk and juice, or by swimming in or drinking contaminated water.
Fortunately, the simple act of handwashing can help protect families against E. coli and other germs in situations such as those found at petting zoos. While it is necessary to find a source of warm water and soap and to scrub hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds before rinsing, fortunately access to handwashing stations is becoming more common at festivals and fairs today. To learn more about proper handwashing, visit the Scrub Club at www.scrubclub.org.
Other tips to help keep you safe include: