Gemma Vaughan has written great article detailing some of the dangers associated with petting zoos and pathogen transmission to the attendees of those animal exhibits, which are usually children. And her article could not be more timely. Just last week, an animal exhibit in Everett, Washington was implicated as the source of an E. coli outbreak that has sickened four so far. This outbreak is just the latest in a long line of previous outbreaks of human illness associated with animal exhibits.
While the deadly E. coli outbreak in Germany is making headlines, people might be shocked to learn that right here at home, E. coli lurks in a most unexpected place: the petting zoo. Yes, those seemingly innocuous fair and carnival attractions can put people’s health at serious risk—so it’s best to walk on by.
E. coli infection is far from a rare occurrence. All around the country numerous people—mostly children—have been made ill by this potentially deadly bug after visiting petting zoos. E. coli can spread through having direct contact with animals, by inhaling or ingesting the bacteria (such as when a child sucks his or her thumb or pacifier) or by coming into contact with something an infected animal has touched. The bacteria have been linked to everything from sawdust to sippy cups. Many children with E. coli infections have suffered acute kidney failure requiring long-term dialysis and transfusions. Some have needed kidney transplants.
No one attends a local fair expecting to come home with a debilitating or even life-threatening disease. But the summer fair season is just getting underway, and potentially dangerous animal displays will be presented, right alongside the Tilt-A-Whirl and cotton candy. Hauled around from city to city and forced to interact with constant streams of excited and sometimes careless children, animals who are used in petting zoos can become stressed and afraid. It’s little wonder that many are in poor health.