Contact with animals poses serious health risks, especially for young children who are prone to putting their fingers into their mouths. Petting zoos and fairs have been associated with infectious disease outbreaks in humans. Those outbreaks have been caused by a number of pathogens, including E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter, cryptosporidium and coxiella burnetii.
North Dakota State University Extension Service veterinarian Charlie Stoltenow and Extension food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson urge parents to make sure their children wash their hands after coming in contact with animals, manure or animal bedding material.
“Handwashing is the most important thing we can do to help prevent ourselves from getting sick or spreading germs to other people,” Garden-Robinson says.
If soap and water are not readily available, you should make sure your children use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, Garden-Robinson says. Such products are effective against common disease agents such as E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter, but not against certain organisms such as bacterial spores, cryptosporidium and certain viruses.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are less effective on hands that are visibly soiled, so visible contamination and soil should be removed before using a hand sanitizer.
If soap and water are available:
Use water as hot as you can tolerate comfortably.
Moisten your hands and add soap. Lather to the elbow if possible.
Rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds.
Scrub thoroughly, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between fingers and under fingernails.
Rinse your hands thoroughly under running water.
Dry your hands thoroughly with a paper towel or hot air dryer.
Don’t touch anything that will recontaminate your hands. Use a paper towel to turn off the water faucet and open the restroom door if necessary.
Here is some other advice for petting zoo and fair visitors:
Never eat, drink or put things into your mouth when around animals.
Older adults, pregnant women and young children should be especially careful around animals.