An animal farm located in Everett, Washington has been implicated in a recent outbreak of E. coli among 2 children and 2 adults who recently visited the farm. The Seattle Times reports that the exact strain of E. coli has not yet been determined. The farm is run by the Everett park department and over 25,000 people visit it each year, where people can come into contact with a variety of animals, including sheep, calves, piglets, chickens, goats, ducks, a horse, a pony and rabbits.
Bringing the general public into direct contact with animals can result in the transmission of a host of pathogens that are public health hazards. These hazards include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Certain segments of the population are more at-risk for contracting these pathogens: the young, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone with a suppressed or compromised immune system such as people infected with HIV/AIDS, cancer patients, and organ transplant recipients.
Public health officials have long recognized the need to maintain a sanitary environment in petting zoos and fairs, but outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7, Cryptosporidium, Campylobacter, and other diseases among fair and petting zoo attendees have drawn increased public attention to the need for animal exhibitors to involve local health departments, veterinarians, and sanitarians in planning to ensure a safe environment for exhibit attendees.
In July 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) endorsed and published the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians’ report, “Compendium of Measures to Prevent Disease Associated with Animals in Public Settings, 2009” (MMWR, May 1, 2009).
Major recommendations made by NASPHV in the report include:
- Wash hands after contact with animals to reduce the risk of zoonotic disease transmission.
- Do not allow food, drink, or pacifiers in animal areas.
- Include transition areas between animal areas and non-animal areas.
- Educate visitors about disease risk and prevention procedures.
- Properly care for and manage animals.
For more information about petting zoo and animal farm safety, visit http://www.fair-safety.com/.