In 2009, 93 people, mostly young children, were sickened in an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 linked to the Godstone Farm in Surrey, U.K. A year later, an independent inquiry into the matter has produced a report that concluded that dozens of cases of E. coli O157:H7 "could have been prevented if authorities had acted earlier and taken the outbreak more seriously" according to press reports. Outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 at petting zoos are not new.
Professor George Griffin, professor of infectious diseases at St George’s University London, chaired the inquiry. He warned that "regulations governing petting or ‘open’ farms were not robust enough to prevent a similar outbreak occurring again."
The report was critical of medical practitioners and government officials alike:
The 250-page report said some local GPs did not recognise the illness as a medical emergency, telling parents their children would get better on their own only for them to deteriorate rapidly.
There were ‘unacceptable delays’ by the Health Protection Agency in setting up an outbreak control team and a ‘failure in public health leadership’, the report said.
It added: "If action had been taken sooner to stop all contact with ruminants (cows and sheep), a substantial number of the E.coli 0157 cases could have been prevented."
8 of the ill persons developed cases of HUS serious enough to need dialysis to survive. Some victims may need a kidney transplant in the future. Because HUS is much more likely to develop among children exposed to E. coli O157:H7, outbreaks at petting zoos are particularly damaging. Such a sudden spike in children needing kidney treatment stretches medical care thin as well:
The outbreak was so severe that every specialist hospital bed to treat children with serious kidney problems in London and the South East was filled with cases from Godstone Farm.
The report suggested that thousands were permitted to visit the farm after the local Health Protection Agency was aware of at least cases of illness linked to the farm. The report did not call for a ban on human/animal contact at such fairs:
Prof. Griffin said the report was in favour of common sense approach and not draconian measures. He said it was perfectly possible for children to pet animals on a farm safely if the animals are kept clean, on fresh bedding and handwashing facilities are readily available and well supervised.
In the U.S. the CDC has published guidelines created by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians for public animal exhibits.