In the last decade or so, petting zoos have been a major source for disease-causing bacteria including E. coli. However, the spread of the disease could be prevented if proper handwashing was practiced.
In 2004, a 13-year-old girl named Katie Maness was taken to a State Fair in Raleigh, North Carolina. Katie and her parents stopped by numerous exhibits to pet cows, pigs and goats. However, one of the goats managed to knock Katie to her hands and knees on the muddy ground. Four days later, Katie started experiencing symptoms of bloody diarrhea and was rushed to the hospital where her family learned she had been infected with E. coli.
So, how does the infection spread?
Perfectly healthy animals can be harboring diseases that can make adults and children sick. And though the pathogens don’t always make the animals sick, they do end up in the animals’ feces, which is where the fecal-to-oral route begins.
Children are more susceptible to infection due to their growing immune systems. Not to mention their unsanitary behavior. What can happen is that feces can get on the animal’s fur, bedding, fence railing, and even in the dust in the air. And after coming into contact with the contaminated area, children often bite their nails or suck on their thumbs, which can spread the infection to their mouths.
“Although animal exhibits at fairs are substantially safe, they’re not risk free,” said South Dakota state veterinarian Russ Daly. “Adequate hand washing and common sense safety measures will help ensure a safer experience for everyone involved.”
(2017). Stay Healthy at Animal Exhibits. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Andrews, J. (2012). The Petting Zoo Problem. Food Safety News.
Beecher, C. (2017). Steer Clear of Fair Foibles – Pun Intended; Pigs Problematic, Too. Food Safety News.