Over at www.fair-safety.com, I am having trouble keeping track of the outbreaks at petting zoos and fairs.  Over the years hundreds – if not thousands – have been sickened.  And, there certainly have been deaths.

Millions of Americans get in touch with their rural roots each year by taking children to agricultural fairs and petting zoos.  Venues like the state fair are as “American as apple pie,” but without precautions, these “apple pie” experiences can result in illness.

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).

  • 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.

And, if that does not work, there is always the risk of litigation:

Cleveland County Fair E. coli Outbreak – North Carolina (2012)

AgVenture Farms Petting Zoo E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak Lawsuits – Florida (2005)

Big Fresno Fair E. coli Outbreak Lawsuit – California (2005)

North Carolina State Fair E. coli Outbreak Litigation – North Carolina (2004)

Lane County Fair E. coli Outbreak Lawsuits – Oregon (2002)

See also, www.fair-safety.com.