Petting zoos may seem like the perfect opportunity to introduce kids to farm animals, but these creatures may possibly putting them in harm’s way of… germs. To what degree should parents be concerned? This past summer, a two-year-old child died after coming into contact with animals at the San Diego County Fair. Three other children under 13 reported contracting illnesses from the same location.
The source of the illness? E.Coli linked to contact with the fair’s animals.
Petting zoos are fairly popular. In summer and fall months, they’re a highlight at local fairs. Later in the year, they’re featured in festivals, pumpkin patches, schools, aquariums, even farmers’ markets. This family-friendly activity can turn dangerous when children come into contact with bacteria that causes serious illness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Every year, many people get sick after visiting an animal exhibit. From 2010-2015, about 100 outbreaks of illness in people linked to animals in public settings like zoos, fairs, and educational farms were reported to public health officials.”
Still, the CDC recognizes these interactions between children and animals can be both fun and educational. Key during a visit — being aware that these animals might possibly be carrying germs and knowing how to combat said germs.
If you plan on visiting a petting zoo or space with live animals, here’s what you need to know to keep your family safe:
What’s So Dangerous About Animals?
While animals at petting zoos are gentle behavior-wise, they can still carry harmful bacteria. This can include E.coli O157:H7, Shiga toxin E coli, salmonella, cryptosporidia, and campylobacter.
These bacteria can be found in animals’ manure. If someone touches a surface that’s come into contact with manure – the floor, gates, or the animal itself – they can get it on their hands. If they don’t wash their hands before eating food, they’re vulnerable to foodborne illness.
For little kids, who are prone to touching their faces, this can be especially hazardous.
What You Can Do For Germ Safety?
Wash Your Hands
Wash your hands, and your child’s, thoroughly and properly. Every time you come into contact with live animals, or the surrounding area they’re in, wash your hands immediately afterward.
Running water and soap are the most effective tools for eliminating these types of germs. If hand sanitizer is the only available option, make sure it contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Be sure to follow up with soap and water as soon as possible.
The CDC’s recommendations for washing hands:
- Find where the handwashing stations are located.
- Wash your hands right after touching animals or anything in the areas where they live, roam, or eat.
- Wash your hands when you leave animal areas, even if you didn’t touch the animals; hands should still be washed if you wore gloves.
- Running water and soap are best, but if they are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol and wash your hands with soap and running water as soon as you can.
Keep Food and Animals Separate
You can also minimize exposure by not eating or drinking near animals.
What the CDC suggests:
- Don’t eat or drink around animals, and keep food and drinks away from animal areas.
- Don’t share your food with the animals, even if you think the food is part of the animal’s regular diet. Animals should eat the food provided for them by the animal exhibit.
- Don’t eat or drink raw (unpasteurized) products. Raw products made or sold at animal exhibits may include: milk, cheese, cider, or juice.
Kid Safety Around Animals
Keep a close eye on small children to make sure they don’t put their hands, or contaminated objects, in their mouths, or play on the ground of the petting zoo’s pen area. Another precautionary measure: leave personal belongings like purses, strollers, pacifiers, and toys out of the pen area.
Per the CDC:
- Always supervise children around animals.
- Children 5 years of age and younger should not have contact with reptiles, amphibians, or live poultry because these animals are more likely to make them sick.
- Leave items such as strollers, pacifiers, cups, or toys outside the exhibit.
- Don’t let children put their thumbs, fingers, or objects (like pacifiers) in their mouths when they’re around animals or in an animal area.
- Don’t let children sit or play on the ground in animal areas.
- Teach children to approach animals with caution and follow the rules. Do not let children put their fingers or objects near an animal’s mouth, even if the animal seems friendly. Make sure to follow any rules provided on signs or verbally by the staff. For example, some contact exhibits have a “two-finger touch” rule.